Abstract Incubation of 48 h concanavalin A stimulated spleen cells (T blasts) and murine peritoneal macrophages with the mycotoxin sporidesmin results in DNA fragmentation characteristic of apoptosis. Morphological changes, particularly condensed chromatin, observed following incubation of these cells with sporidesmin and the immunotoxin gliotoxin and related epipolythiodioxopiperazines (ETP) also show changes characteristic of apoptosis. The presence of Zn 2+ salts in the culture medium at concentrations non toxic to the cells over the time period studied protects against DNA damage and morphological change. Interaction between Zn 2+ and reduced form of a simple ETP compound assessed by spectral changes demonstrated the formation of a weak complex between the two molecules. Complex formation between zinc and thiol however was insufficient to prevent oxidative damage to plasmid DNA in vitro by inhibiting auto-oxidation of the reduced ETP compound because of the looseness of the interaction. Cd 2+, which appears to form a tighter complex with the dithiol does inhibit cleavage of plasmid DNA. These results establish that the toxicity of sporidesmin may be due in part to its ability to induce apoptosis or programmed cell death in sensitive cells. In addition the immunotoxin gliotoxin and related compounds have now been shown to induce the same characteristic morphological changes in cells of haemopoietic origin. The inhibition of apoptosis induced by ETP compounds by Zn 2+ appears to be due to direct inhibition of apoptosis rather than Zn 2+ acting as an antioxidant. These results demonstrate the inhibition of apoptosis induced by ETP compounds by Zn 2+ and suggest an alternate explanation for the known prophylactic effect of Zn 2+ on sporidesmin induced tissue damage.