Ceramide is now recognized as an intracellular lipid signal mediator, which induces various kinds of cell functions including apoptosis. Ceramide-induced apoptosis was reported to be blocked by 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol 13-acetate, a protein kinase C (PKC) activator, but its mechanism remained unclear. Therefore, we investigated whether ceramide has any effects on PKC in the induction of apoptosis. We here report that N-acetylsphingosine (synthetic membrane-permeable ceramide) induced translocation of PKC-delta and -epsilon isozymes from the membrane to the cytosol within 5 min in human leukemia cell lines. Treatment with sphingomyelinase, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, or anti-Fas antibody, all of which can induce apoptosis by generating natural ceramide, similarly induced cytosolic translocation of PKC-delta and -epsilon. In Fas-resistant cells anti-Fas antibody did not induce cytosolic translocation of PKC-delta and -epsilon because of no generation of ceramide, whereas N-acetylsphingosine induced apoptosis with cytosolic translocation of PKC-delta and -epsilon. Furthermore, both 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol 13-acetate and a nonspecific kinase inhibitor, staurosporine, prevented ceramide-induced apoptosis by inhibiting cytosolic translocation of PKC-delta and -epsilon. These data suggest that cytosolic translocation of PKC-delta and -epsilon plays an important role in ceramide-mediated apoptosis.