With a view to studying programmed cell death in plants at the molecular level, we report here for the first time that apoptotic-like changes are induced by UV radiation in plant nuclei. In Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings a UV-C dose of 10-50 kJ/m2 induces an oligonucleosomal DNA fragmentation which is reminiscent of the apoptotic DNA ladder described in animal cells. This DNA fragmentation was also detected in situ in protoplast nuclei as soon as 2 h after UV-C treatment. Moreover, UV-C induced a nuclear morphology characteristic of animal apoptotic nuclei. We propose that UV-C induction constitutes a powerful tool to compare the cellular response to irreversible UV damage in plants to that in animals and to study programmed cell death in A. thaliana.