We investigated the mechanism by which 4-hydroxynonenal (HNE), a major aldehydic product of lipid peroxidation, induces apoptosis in tumor cells. Treatment of human colorectal carcinoma (RKO) cells with HNE-induced poly-ADP-ribose-polymerase (PARP) cleavage and DNA fragmentation in a dose- and time-dependent manner. The induction of PARP cleavage and DNA fragmentation paralleled caspase-2, -3, -8, and -9 activation. Pretreatment of cells with an inhibitor of caspase-3, z-DEVD-fmk, or a broad spectrum caspase inhibitor, z-VAD-fmk, abolished caspase activation and subsequent PARP cleavage. Constitutive expression of high levels of Bcl-2 protected cells from HNE-mediated apoptosis. In addition, Bcl-2 overexpression inhibited cytochrome c release from mitochondria and subsequent caspase-2, -3, and -9 activation. These findings demonstrate that HNE triggers apoptotic cell death through a mitochondrion-dependent pathway involving cytochrome c release and caspase activation. Bcl-2 overexpression protected cells from HNE-induced apoptosis through inhibition of cytochrome c release.