Stefin B (cystatin B) is an inhibitor of lysosomal cysteine cathepsins and does not inhibit cathepsin D, E (aspartic) or cathepsin G (serine) proteinases. In this study, we have investigated apoptosis triggered by camptothecin, staurosporin (STS), and anti-CD95 monoclonal antibody in the thymocytes from the stefin B-deficient mice and wild-type mice. We have observed increased sensibility to STS-induced apoptosis in the thymocytes of stefin B-deficient mice. Pretreatment of cells with pan-caspase inhibitor z-Val-Ala-Asp(OMe)- fluoromethylketone completely inhibited phosphatidylserine externalization and caspase activation, while treatment with inhibitor of calpains- and papain-like cathepsins (2S,3S)-trans-epoxysuccinyl-leucylamido-3-methyl-butane ethyl ester did not prevent caspase activation nor phosphatidylserine exposure. We conclude that sensitization to apoptosis induced by STS in thymocytes of stefin B-deficient and wild-type mice is not dependent on cathepsin inhibition by stefin B. © 2005 Federation of European Biochemical Societies. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.