The 5 Kd (MW), retinoic acid responsive thymosin beta-10 protein is expressed at relatively high levels in embryonic tissues, and its mRNA is abundant in a variety of tumors and tumor cell lines. Recently this protein (together with other members of the same protein family) was found to be a major intracellular G-actin binding protein. In the present study, plasmid-driven overexpression of thymosin beta-10 gene results in increased susceptibility of permanently transfected fibroblasts to undergo apoptosis. Conversely, knockout of the endogenous gene via overexpression of the antisense mRNA inhibited cell death induced by TNF-alpha and calcium ionophore A23187. Differential expression of thymosin beta-10 influenced cell proliferation, cell morphology, and expression/distribution of the antiapoptotic protein bcl-2. The presence of increased cytoplasmic thymosin beta-10 precipitated significant disruption of phalloidin-stained actin stress fibers while knockout of thymosin expression promoted F-actin assembly. These and other observations suggest that thymosin beta-10 (a) plays a significant and possibly obligatory role in cellular processes controlling apoptosis possibly by acting as an actin-mediated tumor suppressor, (b) perhaps functions as a neoapoptotic influence during embryogenesis, and (c) may mediate some of the pro-apoptotic anticancer actions of retinoids.