We have shown that C2 ceramide, a cell-permeable analog of this lipid second messenger, triggers an NF-kappaB dependent survival pathway that counteracts cell death. Activation of NF-kappaB and subsequent induction of prosurvival genes relies on calpain activity and is prevented on silencing of the calpain small subunit (Capn4) that is required for the function of ubiquitous calpains. We have demonstrated that p105 (NF-kappaB1) and its proteolytic product p50 can be targets of micro- and milli-calpain in vitro and that a p50 deletion mutant, lacking both the N- and the C-terminal ends, is resistant to calpain-mediated degradation. Capn4 silencing results in stabilization of endogenous p105 and p50 in diverse human cell lines. Furthermore, p105 processing and activation of NF-kappaB survival genes in response to C2 ceramide is impaired in Capn4-/- mouse embryonic fibroblasts defective in calpain activity. Altogether, these data argue for the existence of a ceramide-calpain-NF-kappaB axis with prosurvival functions.