The health effects of cell phone radiation exposure are a growing public concern. This study investigated whether expression of genes related to cell death pathways are dysregulated in primary cultured neurons and astrocytes by exposure to a working Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) cell phone rated at a frequency of 1900MHz. Primary cultures were exposed to cell phone emissions for 2h. We used array analysis and real-time RT-PCR to show up-regulation of caspase-2, caspase-6 and Asc (apoptosis associated speck-like protein containing a card) gene expression in neurons and astrocytes. Up-regulation occurred in both "on" and "stand-by" modes in neurons, but only in "on" mode in astrocytes. Additionally, astrocytes showed up-regulation of the Bax gene. The effects are specific since up-regulation was not seen for other genes associated with apoptosis, such as caspase-9 in either neurons or astrocytes, or Bax in neurons. The results show that even relatively short-term exposure to cell phone radiofrequency emissions can up-regulate elements of apoptotic pathways in cells derived from the brain, and that neurons appear to be more sensitive to this effect than astrocytes.