Apoptotic execution is characterized by dramatic changes in nuclear structure accompanied by cleavage of nuclear proteins by caspases (reviewed in ). Cell-free extracts have proved useful for the identification and functional characterization of activities involved in apoptotic execution [2-4] and for the identification of proteins cleaved by caspases . More recent studies have suggested that nuclear disassembly is driven largely by factors activated downstream of caspases . One such factor, the caspase-activated DNase, CAD/CPAN/DFF40 [4,7,8] (CAD) can induce apoptotic chromatin condensation in isolated HeLa cell nuclei in the absence of other cytosolic factors [6,8]. As chromatin condensation occurs even when CAD activity is inhibited, however, CAD cannot be the sole morphogenetic factor triggered by caspases . Here we show that DNA topoisomerase IIalpha (Topo IIalpha), which is essential for both condensation and segregation of daughter chromosomes in mitosis , also functions during apoptotic execution. Simultaneous inhibition of Topo IIalpha and caspases completely abolishes apoptotic chromatin condensation. In addition, we show that CAD binds to Topo IIalpha, and that their association enhances the decatenation activity of Topo IIalpha in vitro.