Terminally differentiated HL-60 cells undergoing programmed cell death (apoptosis) in culture were found to have a disrupted microtubular network. Treatment of undifferentiated HL-60 cells with microtubule-disrupting agents alone was found to induce apoptosis en masse in these cells. In contrast, disruption of microfilaments did not induce apoptosis; instead these cells underwent necrosis, the pathological mode of cell death. Apoptosis in response to microtubule disruption in HL-60 cells was characterized by cell shape changes, nuclear condensation followed by fragmentation and the separation of the cell into numerous intact fragments, termed apoptotic bodies. Apoptosis of these cells was further confirmed by DNA analysis, which demonstrated the activation of an endogenous endonuclease which cleaved the DNA of these cells into oligonucleosomal fragments. Microtubule disrupting agents were found to exert these effects over a wide range of doses. Apoptosis was also inducible in HL-60 cells, in a dose-dependent manner, by the calcium ionophore A23187. Since microtubules are known to be highly sensitive to intracellular calcium fluctuations, this suggests that calcium influx could act at the microtubule level in effecting apoptosis.