Cells are eliminated in a variety of physiological settings by apoptosis, a genetically encoded process of cellular suicide. Apoptosis comprises an intrinsic cellular defence against tumorigenesis, which, when suppressed, may contribute to the development of malignancies. The bcl-2 oncogene, which is activated in follicular lymphomas, functions as a potent suppressor of apoptosis under diverse conditions. Here we describe the complementary DNA cloning and functional analysis of a new Bcl-2 homologue, Bak, which promotes cell death and counteracts the protection from apoptosis provided by Bcl-2. Moreover, enforced expression of Bak induces rapid and extensive apoptosis of serum-deprived fibroblasts. This raises the possibility that Bak is directly involved in activating the cell death machinery.