The mechanisms by which tumor cells extravasate to form metastasis remain controversial. Previous studies performed in vivo and in vitro demonstrate that the contact between tumor cells and the vascular wall impairs endothelium integrity. Here, we investigated the effect of breast adenocarcinoma MCF-7 cells on the apoptosis of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC). TUNEL labeling, nuclear morphology, and DNA electrophoresis indicated that MCF-7 cells induced a two- to fourfold increase in HUVEC apoptosis. Caspase-3 activity was significantly enhanced. Neither normal cells tested (mammary epithelial cells, fibroblasts, leukocytes) nor transformed hematopoietic cells tested (HL60, Jurkat) induced HUVEC apoptosis. On the contrary, cells derived from solid tumors (breast adenocarcinoma, MDA-MB-231 and T47D; fibrosarcoma, HT 1080) had an effect similar to that of MCF-7 cells. The induction of apoptosis requires cell-to-cell contact, since it could not be reproduced by media conditioned by MCF-7 cells cultured alone or cocultured with HUVEC. Our results suggest that cells derived from solid tumors may alter the endothelium integrity by inducing endothelial cell apoptosis. On the contrary, normal or malignant leukocytes appear to extravasate by distinct mechanisms and do not damage the endothelium. Our data may lead to a better understanding of the steps involved in tumor cell extravasation.