We have identified and purified from HeLa cytosol a protein that induces DNA fragmentation in coincubated nuclei after it is activated by caspase-3. This protein, designated DNA Fragmentation Factor (DFF), is a heterodimer of 40 kDa and 45 kDa subunits. The amino acid sequence of the 45 kDa subunit, determined from its cDNA sequence, reveals it to be a novel protein. Caspase-3 cleaves the 45 kDa subunit at two sites to generate an active factor that produces DNA fragmentation without further requirement for caspase-3 or other cytosolic proteins. In cells undergoing apoptosis, the 45 kDa subunit is cleaved in the same pattern as it is cleaved by caspase-3 in vitro. These data delineate a direct signal transduction pathway during apoptosis: caspase-3 to DFF to DNA fragmentation.