Neutrophils are critical for innate immune defense against microbial invasion but can also cause inflammatory tissue damage if their life span is not tightly regulated. Antiinflammatory glucocorticoids delay spontaneous apoptosis in human, rodent, and bovine neutrophils, but mechanisms involved are unknown. We hypothesized here that glucocorticoids delay neutrophil apoptosis by altering expression of key Bcl-2 apoptosis regulatory proteins, A1 and Bak, via activation of the cell's glucocorticoid receptors. To test this hypothesis, isolated bovine blood neutrophils were exposed to dexamethasone with and without glucocorticoid receptor antagonism (RU486) and aged ex vivo over 0-24 h for assessment of various spontaneous apoptosis pathway indicators and A1 and Bak abundance. Results show that dexamethasone preserved neutrophil mitochondrial membrane integrity, delayed caspase-9 activation, and reduced the rate of spontaneous apoptosis. Also, dexamethasone increased A1 and decreased Bak mRNA abundance. RU486 pretreatment of the cells abrogated each of these dexamethasone effects. Dexamethasone-induced increases in A1 mRNA were reflected in A1 protein increases, which also were observed in circulating neutrophils of dexamethasone-treated animals. Bak protein decreases were observed in neutrophils of the dexamethasone-treated animals but not in isolated neutrophils, suggesting that stimuli additional to (and perhaps regulated by) glucocorticoid are required to affect Bak protein expression changes in neutrophils. Collectively, our results are unique in demonstrating a mechanism behind glucocorticoid regulation of spontaneous apoptosis and implicate steroid receptor activation and subsequent regulation of A1 and Bak as contributors to mitochondrial membrane stability, reduced caspase-9 activity, and delayed apoptosis in bovine neutrophils exposed to glucocorticoids.