We report here the isolation and characterization of Ich-1, a gene related to the C. elegans cell death gene ced-3 and the mammalian homolog of ced-3, interleukin-1 beta-converting enzyme (ICE). Alternative splicing results in two distinct Ich-1 mRNA species. One mRNA species encodes a protein product of 435 amino acids (ICH-1L) that is homologous to both the P20 and P10 subunits of ICE (27% identity) and the entire CED-3 protein (28% identity). The other mRNA encodes a 312 amino acid truncated version of ICH-1L protein (ICH-1S). Overexpression of IchL induces programmed cell death, suggesting that Ich-1 is also a mammalian programmed cell death gene. More interestingly, overexpression of the Ich-1S suppresses Rat-1 cell death induced by serum deprivation. These observations suggest that Ich-1 plays an important role in both positive and negative regulation of programmed cell death in vertebrate animals.