Cell death may occur by either of two mechanisms: apoptosis or necrosis. Necrosis, the first type of cell death to be recognized, is an uncontrolled degenerative phenomenon invariably caused by noxious stimuli and is the result of irreversible failure of membrane function. Apoptosis, on the other hand, is a death process which involves a series of well-organized events which require active cell participation, and is primarily caused by physiological stimuli. In the present study we show that cell death induced by a range of varied agents may take the form of either apoptosis or necrosis. Apoptotic cell death was found to occur at low levels of these agents, while at higher levels necrosis occurred. Hence, cells which are not killed directly, but merely injured by these agents, have the capacity to activate an internally programmed suicide death mechanism, whereas cells receiving greater injuries apparently do not. In addition, the presence of extracellular calcium was found to be necessary for the induction of apoptosis with all agents tested.