The mycotoxin ochratoxin A (OTA), which is produced by Aspergillus and Penicillium subspecies, is a frequently present contaminant of food and feedstuffs. OTA exhibits a wide range of toxic activities including nephro- and hepatotoxicity. However, little is known regarding potential neurotoxic effects of OTA. In the present study primary neurons as well as SH-SY5Y neuronal cells were incubated with increasing concentrations of OTA (0.1-2.5 mumol/L). OTA treatment resulted in a dose-dependent increase in cytotoxicity in both neuronal cell types. Caspase-9 and caspase-3 were activated in response to OTA treatment. Furthermore, caspase inhibitors were effective in partly counteracting OTA induced neurocytotoxicity. OTA induced apoptosis was accompanied by a loss of mitochondria membrane potential. Overall, present data indicated that OTA is neurotoxic at relatively low concentrations. OTA induced neurotoxicity seems to be, at least party, mediated by apoptosis. OTA may contribute to the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease) in which apoptotic processes are centrally involved.