The DNA fragmentation factor 45 (DFF45/ICAD) is a key subunit of a heterodimeric DNase complex critical for the induction of DNA fragmentation during apoptosis in vivo. To further assess the importance of DFF45 in chromosomal DNA degradation, we induced apoptosis in wild-type control and DFF45 deficient thymocytes and compared the cleavage of chromosomal DNA to 50 kilobase pair size fragments. We found that there is a lack of obvious large chromosomal DNA fragments upon treatments by various apoptotic agents in DFF45 deficient thymocytes. The major organ systems in the DFF45 mutant mice either two months or fifteen months of age appear normal. These results suggest that functional DFF45 is required for cleavage of DNA into both large size and oligonucleosomal size fragments in thymocytes during apoptosis. However, deficiency in DFF45 apparently does not significantly affect normal mouse development and tissue homeostasis. (C) 2000 Academic Press.