We examined the activity of bovine lactoferricin (Lfcin-B), a peptide derived from a bovine milk protein lactoferrin (LF-B), to induce apoptosis in THP-1 human monocytic leukemic cells. Treatment with Lfcin-B at up to 50 micrograms/ml induced cell death in THP-1 cells in dose- and time-dependent manner, showing apparent morphological changes, hypodiploid forms of genomic DNA and apoptotic DNA fragmentation, whereas LF-B was inactive even at a high dose (500 micrograms/ml). The apoptosis-inducing effect of Lfcin-B increased with reduction of serum concentration, but was inhibited by addition of Zn2+, a inhibitor of Ca2+/Mg(2+)-dependent endonucleases in a dose-dependent manner. Furthermore, Lfcin-B-induced apoptosis in THP-1 cells was completely abolished by addition of antioxidants such as N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) and glutathione (GSH), but not by various cytokines and mitogen which can activate monocytic cells. In addition, THP-1 cells treated with Lfcin-B, but not LF-B, showed high levels of intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the early period (20 min) of Lfcin-B treatment. And the production of ROS by Lfcin-B was dependent upon the dose of Lfcin-B added. These results suggested that Lfcin-B, a LF-B-derived peptide, but not LF-B itself, is able to induce apoptosis in THP-1 human monocytic tumor cells, and that its apoptosis-inducing activity is related to the pathway mediated by production of the intracellular ROS and activation of Ca2+/Mg(2+)-dependent endonucleases.