Early radiation responses of transplantable murine ovarian (OCaI) and hepatocellular (HCaI) carcinomas were examined at 6, 24, 48, 96, and 144 h after single photon doses of 25, 35, or 45 Gy. Previous studies using tumor growth delay and tumor radiocurability assays had shown OCaI tumors to be relatively radiosensitive and HCaI tumors to be radioresistant. At 6 h, approximately 20% of nuclei in OCaI tumors showed aberrations characteristic of cell death by apoptosis. This contrasted to an incidence of 3% in HCaI tumors. Mitotic activity was eliminated in OCaI tumors but was only transiently suppressed in HCaI tumors. At 24-96 h, OCaI tumors continued to display apoptosis and progressive necrosis, whereas HCaI tumors responded by exhibiting marked pleomorphism. Factors other than mitotic activity may influence tumor radiosensitivity, and one of these may be susceptibility to induction of apoptosis (programmed cell death), because this was a prominent early radiation response by the radiosensitive OCaI tumors.