Pressure overload induces cardiac growth in the rat, which implies the hypertrophy of cardiac muscle cells and proliferation of nonmuscle cells. The cardiac cell loss observed in parallel has generally been attributed to necrosis. Using an in situ assay, we demonstrated a phase of apoptosis or programmed cell death during the first 7 d after pressure overload with a peak at day 4 while cardiac growth continued for over 30 d. The increase in apoptosis was confirmed by quantification of 180-1500-bp DNA oligonucleosomes with agarose gel electrophoresis and in situ labeling via 3'-terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase assay. While some apoptosis was observed in the basal state in nonmuscle cells, pressure overload induced apoptosis mainly in cardiomyocytes. These data suggest that cardiac hypertrophy is initiated by a wave of apoptosis of cardiomyocytes. Thus, apoptosis may be involved in the pathogenesis of heart remodeling.