Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) is well-characterized for its necrotic action against tumor cells; however, it has been increasingly associated with an apoptosis-inducing potential on target cells. While the signaling events and the actual cytolytic mechanism(s) for both TNF-alpha-induced necrosis and apoptosis remain to be fully elucidated, we report here on (i) the ability of TNF-alpha to induce apoptosis in the promonocytic U937 cells, (ii) the discovery of a cross-talk between the TNF-alpha and the interferon signaling pathways, and (iii) the pivotal role of interferon-inducible, double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase (PKR) in the induction of apoptosis by TNF-alpha. Our data from microscopy studies, trypan blue exclusion staining, and apoptotic DNA ladder electrophoresis revealed that a subclone derived from U937 and carrying a PKR antisense expression vector was resistant to TNF-alpha-induced apoptosis. Further, TNF-alpha initiated a generalized RNA degradation process in which the participation of PKR was required. Finally, the PKR gene is a candidate "death gene" since overexpression of this gene could bring about apoptosis in U937 cells.