It is known that iron is essential for cell growth and viability and that iron deprivation results in an inhibition in the synthesis of deoxyribonucleotides. However, steps leading to eventual cell death during iron deprivation are not fully understood. In the present study, we report that cellular iron-deficiency produced by exposure of human leukemic CCRF-CEM cells to gallium or the iron chelator deferoxamine (DFX) resulted in the inhibition of cell growth, condensation of chromatin, and the formation of DNA fragments (DNA-ladder), findings that are characteristic of apoptotic cell death. These effects of gallium and DFX were detected after a 48-hour incubation with cells and could be prevented by ferric ammonium citrate (FAC). Iron-deprivation produced a small increase in the endogenous expression of bcl-2 protein. Our studies provide additional information regarding the mechanism of cytotoxicity of gallium and DFX, and suggest, for the first time, a role for iron in the suppression of apoptotic cell death.