We investigated the mechanism of lethal injury following the disruption of microtubules in cultured hepatocytes treated with vinblastine (VBL) or colchicine (COL). These agents kill hepatocytes by a process readily distinguished from two well-known pathways that lead to a loss of viability, namely, oxidative stress and inhibition of mitochondrial electron transport. Cell killing with VBL and COL was accompanied by fragmentation of DNA. Both the loss of viability and the fragmentation of DNA were prevented by the inhibition of protein synthesis within 6 hours following exposure to VBL or COL. Cell death and the fragmentation of DNA were also prevented when Ca2+ was removed from the culture medium. By contrast, the inhibition of protein kinase C prevented cell killing by VBL or COL, but did not alter the extent of DNA fragmentation. The requirements here for protein synthesis, extracellular Ca2+, and protein kinase C activity define a model of apoptosis, or programmed cell death, that seems to involve mechanisms that can be dissociated from the fragmentation of DNA.