Restoration of expression of the retinoblastoma gene to DU-145 prostate-cancer cells sensitizes them to apoptosis induced by γ-irradiation. In contrast, RB expression-protected cells from UV-induced cell death. RB, a caspase substrate, remained intact during apoptosis in γ-irradiated DU-145 cells because serine proteases, but not caspases, were activated. In DU-145 cells, RB-mediated apoptosis involved biphasic activation of ABL kinase. ABL kinase was activated within minutes of irradiation, but in the presence of RB expression ABL kinase activation was enhanced 48 h after irradiation, coincident with the onset of cell death. Apoptosis was inhibited by RB mutants with constitutive ABL binding, but ABL overexpression overcame the effect of the RB mutant constructs. Expression of kinase-dead ABL had a dominant-negative effect on RB-mediated cell death. Activation of JUN N-terminal kinase depended on the presence of RB and occurred within 8 h of irradiation. Mutant JUN proteins that lacked the N-terminal transactivation domain and serine substrates for JUN N-terminal kinase inhibited cell death in a dominant-negative manner. Irradiation of DU-145 cells caused activation of p38 MAPK independent of the expression of RB. Inhibitors of p38 MAPK blocked apoptosis after irradiation of RB-expressing cells. The data show that after γ-irradiation, intact RB mediates transcriptional activation that leads to activation of JNK and late activation of ABL kinase. In addition, p38 MAPK activation occurred independent of RB. ABL kinase, JUN N-terminal kinase, and p38 MAPK activity were all required for RB-mediated DU-145 cell death after γ-irradiation.