Histone deacetylase activity is potently inhibited by hydroaximc acid derivatives such as suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA) and trichostatin-A (TSA). These inhibitors specifically induce differentiation/apoptosis of transformed cells in vitro and suppress tumor growth in vivo. Because of its low toxicity, SAHA is currently evaluated in clinical trials for the treatment of cancer. SAHA and TSA induce apoptosis, which is characterized by mitochondrial stress, but so far, the critical elements of this apoptotic program remain poorly defined. To characterize in more detail this apoptotic program, we used human cell lines containing alterations in important elements of apoptotic response such as: p53, Bcl-2, caspase-9, and caspase-3. We demonstrate that caspase-9 is critical for apoptosis induced by SAHA and TSA and that efficient proteolytic activation of caspase-2, caspase-8, and caspase-7 strictly depends on caspase-9. Bcl-2 efficiently antagonizes cytochrome c release and apoptosis in response to both histone deacetylase inhibitors. We provide evidences that translocation into the mitochondria of the Bcl-2 family member Bid depends on caspase-9 and that this translocation is a late event during TSA-induced apoptosis. We also demonstrate that the susceptibility to TSA- and SAHA-induced cell death is regulated by p53.