The present study was undertaken to determine the significance of histone acetylation versus DNA damage in drug-induced irreversible growth arrest (senescence) and apoptosis. Cellular treatment with the DNA-damaging drugs doxorubicin and cisplatin or with the histone deacetylase inhibitor trichostatin A, led to the finding that all the three drugs induced senescence at concentrations significantly lower than those required for apoptosis. However, only doxorubicin and cisplatin induced activation of H2AX, a marker for double-strand break formation. Interestingly, this occurred mainly at apoptosis and not senescence-inducing drug concentrations, suggesting that non-DNA-damage pathways may be implicated in induction of senescence by these drugs. In agreement with this, chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments indicated that doxorubicin was able to induce acetylation of histone H3 at the promoter of p21/WAF1 only at senescence-inducing concentrations. Collectively, these findings suggest that alteration of chromatin structure by cytotoxic drugs may represent a key mediator of senescence.