Renal cyst formation in polycystic diseases or after nephron reduction is attributed to enhanced tubular cell proliferation with unbalanced cell death. The induction of tubular cell death could be effective to reduce renal cyst formation. In this study, we examined the effects of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors on apoptosis in mouse proximal tubular (MPT) cells in primary culture. After treatment with HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, the extracted DNA was analyzed by gel-electrophoresis under ultraviolet light. Apoptosis was evaluated quantitatively by estimating the ratio of fragmented DNA over intact DNA. For morphologic studies, cells were stained with Hoechst 33,258. DNA ladder pattern of 200 kDa typical of apoptosis and significant increase in DNA fragmentation were seen after 24 hours of treatment with lovastatin, a HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor. Staining with the Hoechst dye revealed cleavage of nucleus into pieces under the same condition. Geranylgeranylpyrophosphate (20 microM) and mevalonate (500 microM) completely reversed the effect of lovastatin, while farnesylpyrophosphate (20 microM) partially reversed it. Other products of HMG-CoA pathway such as cholesterol, ubiquinone, dolichol, and isopentenyladenine had no effect. Perillic acid and alpha-hydoxyfarnesylphosphonic acid, isoprenylation inhibitors, induced apoptosis of the cells. A treatment with lovastatin caused actin filament disruption. Cytochalasin D, an inhibitor of actin polymerization, induced apoptosis. Interleukin-1 beta-converting enzyme inhibitor II, a protease inhibitor, had no effect on the apoptosis induced by either HRI or cytochalasin D. The present study suggests that in mouse proximal tubules, HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors induce apoptosis via inhibition of isoprenoid production, and disruption of actin filaments may play a role in the apoptosis induction.