p53's Dual regulation of arrest versus apoptosis may underlie tumor-selective effects of anti-cancer therapy. p53's apoptotic effect has been suggested to involve both transcription-dependent and -independent mechanisms. It is shown here that caspase-8 is activated early in cells undergoing p53-mediated apoptosis and in S100 cell-free extracts that recapitulate transcription-independent apoptosis. Depletion or inactivation of caspase-8 either in cells or cell-free extracts completely prevents this transcription-independent apoptosis and significantly attenuates overall death induced by wild-type p53. Importantly, caspase-8 activation appears to be independent of FADD, and caspase-8 is found in a novel 600-kDa complex following p53 activation. These findings highlight the roles of both transcription-dependent and -independent apoptosis by p53 and identify an essential role for caspase-8 in the transcription-independent pathway.