Adenovirus (Ad) infection is concluded by assembly of virions in the cell nucleus followed by lysis of cells by an unknown mechanism. We have described an Ad nuclear membrane glycoprotein of 11,600 kDa (E3-11.6K) which is encoded by the E3 transcription unit and which is synthesized in small amounts from the E3 promoter at early stages of infection but in large amounts from the major late promoter at very late stages of infection. We now report that E3-11.6K is required for the efficient lysis (death) of Ad-infected cells, and we propose that the function of E3-11.6K is to mediate the release of Ad progeny from infected cells. We have renamed E3-11.6K the Ad death protein (ADP). Virus mutants that lack ADP replicated as well as adp+ Ad, but the cells lysed more slowly, virus release from the cell was retarded, and the plaques were small and developed slowly. Cells infected with adp+ viruses began to lyse at 2 or 3 days postinfection (p.i.) and were completely lysed by 5 or 6 days p.i. In contrast, cells infected with adp mutants did not begin significant lysis until 5 or 6 days p.i. Cell lysis and viability were determined by plaque size, extracellular virus, cell morphology, release of lactate dehydrogenase, trypan blue exclusion, the 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl-2H-tetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay for mitochondrial activity, RNA degradation, and DNA degradation as determined by agarose gel electrophoresis and the terminal deoxynucleotidyltransferase end labeling assay. Protein synthesis was almost nonexistent at 3 days p.i. in cells infected with adp+ Ads, but it was still increasing in cells infected with adp mutants. Host cell protein synthesis was undetectable at 1 day p.i. in cells infected with adp+ Ads or adp mutants. Cells infected with adp mutants showed Ad cytopathic effect at 1 or 2 days p.i. in that they rounded up and detached, but the cells remained metabolically active and intact for >5 days p.i. When examined by electron microscopy, the nuclei were extremely swollen and full of virus, and the nuclear membrane appeared to be intact. ADP is unrelated in sequence to other known cell death-promoting proteins.