Neurogenesis requires negative regulation through differentiation of progenitors or their programmed cell death (PCD). Growth regulation is particularly important in the postnatal cerebellum, where excessive progenitor proliferation promotes medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor in children. We present evidence that PCD operates alongside differentiation to regulate cerebellar granule neuron progenitors (CGNPs) and to prevent medulloblastoma. Here, we show that genetic deletion of pro-apoptotic Bax disrupts regulation of cerebellar neurogenesis and promotes medulloblastoma formation. In Bax-/-mice, the period of neurogenesis was extended into the third week of postnatal life, and ectopic neurons and progenitors collected in the molecular layer of the cerebellum and adjacent tectum. Importantly, genetic deletion of Bax in medulloblastoma-prone ND2:SmoA1 transgenic mice greatly accelerated tumorigenesis. Bax-deficient medulloblastomas exhibited strikingly distinct pathology, with reduced apoptosis, increased neural differentiation and tectal migration. Comparing Bax +/+ and Bax-/-medulloblastomas, we were able to identify upregulation of Bcl-2 and nuclear exclusion of p27 as tumorigenic changes that are required to mitigate the tumor suppressive effect of Bax. Studies on human tumors confirmed the importance of modulating Bax in medulloblastoma pathogenesis. Our results demonstrate that Bax-dependent apoptosis regulates postnatal cerebellar neurogenesis, suppresses medulloblastoma formation and imposes selective pressure on tumors that form. Functional resistance to Bax-mediated apoptosis, required for medulloblastoma tumorigenesis, may be a tumor-specific vulnerability to be exploited for therapeutic benefit. © 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited.