The appearance of various abnormal cells after irradiation was investigated in growing mouse leukaemia L5178Y cells. Morphologically defined apoptotic cells started to emerge at 10 h after irradiation and the frequency reached a peak at around 48 h being similar to the frequency of other abnormal cells, i.e. micronucleated, multinucleated and giant cells. Necrotic cells were rarely seen. The frequency of apoptosis and other abnormal cells depended on the radiation dose. The typical DNA ladder pattern for apoptosis was observed in the agarose gel electrophoretic analysis of the cells at 24-96 h postirradiation. A decline in the frequency of apoptotic cells occurred with longer incubation, which was associated with a sharp increase in cloning efficiency. Changes in the growth rate of the irradiated cell population during the postirradiation period could be reasonably well described by a simple model using the frequencies of apoptosis and other abnormal cells. The results suggest that apoptosis is the ultimate form of cell death via mitotic failure caused by relatively small doses of radiation in L5178Y cells.