Programmed cell death, particularly adhesion-dependent regulation of cell survival and apoptosis, is recognized as one of the main homeostatic mechanisms designed to control cell positioning, eliminate misplaced cells and block metastatic dissemination. Recently we reported that highly metastatic cancer cells exhibit a higher resistance to the programmed cell death compared to their poorly metastatic counterparts (Cancer Lett., 101, 43-51, 1996). However, the molecular and genetic basis for the association of aggressive metastatic phenotype with resistance toward apoptosis remains to be elucidated. Here we extended our investigation on apoptosis and metastasis using a panel of nine murine and human cancer cell lines with different metastatic potential. We examined the relationship of the metastatic ability and the sensitivity to apoptosis as well as determined the status of two major apoptosis execution mechanisms (induction of nuclear Ca2+-dependent endonucleases and activation of ICE-like proteases) in cancer cells with distinct metastatic potential and different sensitivity to apoptosis. We found that high metastatic potential is strictly associated with the increased resistance to apoptosis, diminished level of nuclear Ca2+-dependent endonucleases, and significantly reduced activity of CPP32/Yama death protease. We concluded that high resistance to apoptosis of metastatic cancer cells is associated with and may depend upon the profound deficiency of major apoptosis execution mechanisms.