New agents are required for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). We show here that a protein kinase C inhibitor, bisindolylmaleimide IX, is a potent inducer of apoptosis in CLL cells, and investigate the mechanisms by which this is induced. Bisindolylmaleimide IX induced a conformational change and subcellular redistribution of Bax from the cytosol to the mitochondria, resulting in the release of the proapoptotic mediators cytochrome c, Smac and Omi/HtrA2 from the mitochondrial inner membrane space. This was followed by the activation of caspase-9 as the apical caspase and subsequent activation of effector caspases. CLL cells undergoing apoptosis showed a rapid caspase-mediated cleavage of Mcl-1, an antiapoptotic member of the Bcl-2 family implicated in CLL survival and poor prognosis. This cleavage was mediated primarily by caspase-3. Cleavage of Mcl-1 may provide a feed-forward amplification loop, resulting in the rapid induction of apoptosis. Bisindolylmaleimide IX or a related derivative may be of clinical use in the treatment of CLL.