Bone morphogenic protein (BMP)-4 inhibits proliferation and induces the apoptosis of myeloma cells. However, little is known about the molecular mechanisms of how BMP-4 executes this apoptosis. In this report, we investigated the roles of p53 and the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in BMP-4-induced apoptosis of mouse hybridoma HS-72 cells. We found that 3 ng/ml of BMP-4 is sufficient to induce the expression of proapoptotic proteins, puma and bax, in a p53-dependent mechanism, and facilitate Ca(2+) release from the ER to the cytosol, resulting in the activation of caspase-12 and ER dysfunction. Similarly to HS-72 cells, multiple myeloma cells with wild-type p53 genes show much higher sensitivity to BMP-4-induced apoptosis than cells without wild-type p53 genes, suggesting that wild-type p53 status is required for dysfunction of the ER during BMP-4-induced apoptosis in ER-enriched cells, such as hybridoma and myeloma cells. These findings demonstrate that the presence of wild-type p53 genes and enrichment of the ER determines the sensitivity to effective apoptosis by BMP-4, and suggest that ER stress-inducing agents would be valuable in the treatment of multiple myeloma.