Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) constitute a new class of delivery vectors with high pharmaceutical potential. However, the abilities of these peptides to translocate through cell membranes can be accompanied by toxic effects resulting from membrane perturbation at higher peptide concentrations. Therefore, we investigated membrane toxicity of five peptides with well-documented cell-penetrating properties, pAntp(43-58), pTAT(48-60), pVEC(615-632), model amphipathic peptide (MAP), and transportan 10, on two human cancer cell lines, K562 (erythroleukemia) and MDA-MB-231 (breast cancer), as well as on immortalized aortic endothelial cells. We studied the effects of these five peptides on the leakage of lactate dehydrogenase and on the fluorescence of plasma membrane potentiometric dye bis-oxonol. In all cell lines, pAntp(43-58), pTAT(48-60), and pVEC(615-632) induced either no leakage or low leakage of lactate dehydrogenase, accompanied by modest changes in bis-oxonol fluorescence. MAP and transportan 10 caused significant leakage; in K562 and MDA-MB-231 cells, 40% of total lactate dehydrogenase leaked out during 10 min exposure to 10 microM of transportan 10 and MAP, accompanied by a significant increase in bis-oxonol fluorescence. However, none of the CPPs tested had a hemolytic effect on bovine erythrocytes comparable to mastoparan 7. The toxicity profiles presented in the current study are of importance when selecting CPPs for different applications.