The chimeric monoclonal antibody rituximab is the standard of care for patients with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (B-NHL). Rituximab mediates complement-dependent cytotoxicity and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity of CD20-positive human B cells. In addition, rituximab sensitizes B-NHL cells to cytotoxic chemotherapy and has direct apoptotic and antiproliferative effects. Whereas expression of the CD20 antigen is a natural prerequisite for rituximab sensitivity, cell-autonomous factors determining the response of B-NHL to rituximab are less defined. To this end, we have studied rituximab-induced apoptosis in human B-NHL models. We find that rituximab directly triggers apoptosis via the mitochondrial pathway of caspase activation. Expression of antiapoptotic Bcl-xL confers resistance against rituximab-induced apoptosis in vitro and rituximab treatment of xenografted B-NHL in vivo. B-NHL cells insensitive to rituximab-induced apoptosis exhibit increased endogenous expression of multiple antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins, or activation of phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase signaling resulting in up-regulation of Mcl-1. The former resistance pattern is overcome by treatment with the BH3-mimetic ABT-737, the latter by combining rituximab with pharmacologic phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase inhibitors. In conclusion, sensitivity of B-NHL cells to rituximab-induced apoptosis is determined at the level of mitochondria. Pharmacologic modulation of Bcl-2 family proteins or their upstream regulators is a promising strategy to overcome rituximab resistance.