It is established that soluble factors involved in cell growth can prevent apoptosis of hematolymphoid cell lines in factor-deprived situations. The present study investigates the possible protective effects of various cytokines on radiation-induced apoptosis of apparently quiescent lymphocyte subpopulations. The exposure to gamma-irradiation resulted in appreciable apoptotic changes in all of lymphocyte subpopulations. Natural killer (NK) cells were the most radiosensitive, whereas CD8+ T and B cells showed weaker susceptibility to radiation and CD4+ T cells were relatively radioresistant. The radiation-induced apoptosis in NK cells was significantly inhibited by IL-2. In addition to IL-2, IL-4 and IL-7 rescued both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells from radiation-induced cell death. The viability of B cells was maintained by the presence of IL-4 but not others in culture. Furthermore, we conclude that the protective effect by each cytokine on radiation-induced apoptosis might be partly attributed to enhancement of cellular expression of bcl-2 protein.