The process of cell death caused by influenza virus infection in cultured MDCK and HeLa cells was analysed. This infection gave rise to nuclear fragmentation and chromatin condensation accompanied by chromosomal DNA fragmentation into oligonucleosomes. Chromosomal DNA fragmentation progressed concomitantly with cell lysis of MDCK cells and HeLa cells, producing high and low yields of virus particles, respectively, indicating that the extent of cell lysis was not proportional to the virus production. The endonuclease inhibitor zinc blocked DNA fragmentation in MDCK cells. Cycloheximide inhibited DNA fragmentation as well as cell lysis. Inhibition occurred when the drug was added to the medium within 2 h after infection but not efficiently at 4 h or later. Infection induced the Fas Ag gene, which encodes a possible apoptosis-mediating molecule, in the early infectious stage followed by the expression of Fas Ag on the cell surface. These results suggested that influenza virus infection causes apoptotic death of cultured cells, and their fate might be determined at an early stage of the infection by induction of an apoptotic gene.