Apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF), a mitochondrial oxidoreductase, is released into the cytoplasm to induce cell death in response to poly(ADP-ribose) (PAR) polymerase-1 (PARP-1) activation. How PARP-1 activation leads to AIF release is not known. Here we identify PAR polymer as a cell death signal that induces release of AIF. PAR polymer induces mitochondrial AIF release and translocation to the nucleus. PAR glycohydrolase, which degrades PAR polymer, prevents PARP-1-dependent AIF release. Cells with reduced levels of AIF are resistant to PARP-1-dependent cell death and PAR polymer cytotoxicity. These results reveal PAR polymer as an AIF-releasing factor that plays important roles in PARP-1-dependent cell death. © 2006 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA.