Treatment of cells with the antimetabolite 1-beta-D-arabinofuranosylcytosine (ara-C) and other genotoxic agents is associated with activation of the c-Abl protein tyrosine kinase. The functional role of c-Abl in the response to DNA damage, however, remains unclear. The present studies demonstrate that cells expressing a dominant negative, kinase-inactive c-Abl (K-R) are resistant to killing by ara-C. The expression of c-Abl (K-R) blocked ara-C-induced apoptosis by a mechanism that is at least in part independent of the p53 tumor suppressor. Cells null for c-Abl also exhibited resistance to induction of apoptosis. These findings provide support for a pro-apoptotic function of c-Abl in the response to certain genotoxic drugs.