Platelet-activating factor (PAF) is a key mediator in pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) but mechanisms of PAF-induced mucosal injury are poorly understood. To determine whether apoptosis and the Bcl-2-family of apoptosis regulatory gene products play a role in PAF-induced mucosal injury, we stably and conditionally overexpressed bcl-2 in rat small intestinal epithelial cells-6 under the control of a lactose-inducible promoter. Western blot analysis and immunohistochemistry were used to verify inducible Bcl-2 and to analyze Bcl-2 and a proapoptotic member of the Bcl-2 family, Bax, subcellular distribution. DNA fragmentation was quantified by ELISA, caspase activity was measured by using fluorogenic peptide substrates, and mitochondrial membrane potential was assayed by 5,5′,6,6′ -tetrachloro-1,1′,3,3′-tetraethylbenzimidazolylcarbocyanine iodide (JC-1) and fluorescence digital imaging. Bcl-2 expression was highly inducible by lactose analog isopropyl-β-D-thiogalactoside (IPTG) and was localized predominantly to mitochondria. In the absence of bcl-2 overexpression and after treatment with PAF, Bax translocated to mitochondria, and mitochondrial membrane potential collapsed within 1 h, followed by caspase-3 activation, which peaked at 6 h with an ensuing DNA fragmentation maximizing at 18 h. After IPTG-induction of bcl-2 expression, PAF failed to induce DNA fragmentation, caspase-3 activation, Bax translocation, or a collapse of mitochondrial membrane potential. These data are the first to show that PAF can activate apoptotic machinery in enterocytes via a mechanism involving Bax translocation and collapse of mitochondrial membrane potential and that both of these events are under control by bcl-2 expression levels. A better understanding of the role of PAF and Bcl-2 family of apoptosis regulators in epithelial cell death might aid design of better therapeutic or preventive strategies for IBDs.