Regression of the rat ventral prostate occurs when the level of 5 alpha-dihydrotestosterone, the trophic hormone, drops below the threshold required to suppress apoptosis. The induction of apoptosis in the ventral prostate is accompanied by the increase in the steady-state level of a number of mRNAs coding for proteins that are involved in the latter stages of apoptosis and thus represent secondary thanatogens. These include proteases (cathepsins, plasminogen activators, and collagenase), clusterin, poly(ADP)ribose polymerase, tenascin, and several unidentified genes, as well as several RNases and the classical Ca2+,Mg(2+)-dependent endonuclease. In addition, insulin-like growth-factor-binding protein 5 (IGFBP-5) is induced de novo. We propose that IGFBP-5 may serve to trigger the apoptotic process through the attenuation of the insulin-like growth factor signalling system (which is necessary for cell survival), and as such, represents a primary thanatogen in the prostate.