The Bcl-2-related protein, Bcl-XL, has been shown to block apoptosis induced by a variety of stimuli and to be a stronger protector against apoptosis than Bcl-2 under certain circumstances. Using site-specific mutagenesis, we show here that the amino-acid residues critical for protection of cells by Bcl-XL against Sindbis virus-induced apoptosis are clustered within the Bcl-2-homology regions 1 and 2 (BH1 and BH2 regions). The residues necessary for Bcl-XL function are not identical to those required for Bcl-2 function. Although it has been suggested that heterodimerization between Bcl-XL and Bax is essential for the anti-death activity of Bcl-XL (refs 7,8), our results suggest that the interaction with Bax is not required for Bcl-XL to exert its death-repressing activity. Specific mutations that disrupt the ability of Bcl-XL to interact with Bax or Bak still preserve 70-80% of the anti-death activity of wild-type Bcl-XL.