We reported earlier that IL-1beta, an NF-kappaB-regulated cytokine, was made by intestinal epithelial cells during detachment-induced apoptosis (anoikis) and that IL-1 was antiapoptotic for detached cells. Since surviving anoikis is a prerequisite for cancer progression and metastases, we are further exploring the link between anoikis and cytokines. Here we determined that multiple genes are expressed following detachment including a number of NF-kappaB-regulated products and therefore aimed to determine whether NF-kappaB signalling plays any role in regulating apoptosis. Using Western blotting, we detected that IkappaBalpha becomes phosphorylated immediately following detachment and that levels of phospho-IkappaBalpha peaked within 20 min. Phosphorylation of IkappaBalpha was followed by Rel A (p65) nuclear translocation. Increased NF-kappaB activity following detachment was confirmed using the detection of NF-kappaB-promoted luciferase gene expression delivered by adenovirus infection. Infection of cells with adenovirus expressing a super-repressor IkappaBalpha protein and pharmacological inhibitors of NF-kappaB resulted in the failure to phosphorylate IkappaBalpha, a more rapid activation of caspases and earlier apoptosis. We also detected that IkappaB kinase alpha (IKKalpha) and not IKKbeta became phosphorylated following detachment. Since IKKalpha is activated by NF-kappaB-inducing kinase (NIK), we overexpressed native NIK using an adenovirus vector that resulted in enhanced phospho-IkappaBalpha and nuclear p65 in detached cells compared to control detached cells but did not result in a significantly greater number of cells surviving to 24 h. We conclude that detachment directly activates NF-kappaB, which, in addition to launching an inflammatory cytokine wave, contributes to a delay in apoptosis in intestinal epithelial cells.