We have investigated the mechanism by which deregulated expression of c-Myc induces death by apoptosis in serum-deprived fibroblasts. We demonstrate that Myc-induced apoptosis in low serum is inhibited by a restricted group of cytokines, principally the insulin-like growth factors and PDGF. Cytokine-mediated protection from apoptosis is not linked to the cytokines' abilities to promote growth. Protection from apoptosis is evident in the post-commitment (mitogen-independent) S/G2/M phases of the cell cycle and also in cells that are profoundly blocked in cell cycle progression by drugs. Moreover, IGF-I inhibition of apoptosis occurs in the absence of protein synthesis, and so does not require immediate early gene expression. We conclude that c-Myc-induced apoptosis does not result from a conflict of growth signals but appears to be a normal physiological aspect of c-Myc function whose execution is regulated by the availability of survival factors. We discuss the possible implications of these findings for models of mammalian cell growth in vivo.