The 2-5A system (2-5OAS/RNaseL) is composed of the 2-,5-oligoadenylate synthetase 1 (2-5OAS1) and 2-5A-dependent RNase (RNaseL), enzymes that play a key role in antiviral defence mechanisms. Activation of the 2-5A system by double stranded RNA (dsRNA) induces degradation of ribosomal RNAs and apoptosis in mammalian cells. To obtain further information into the molecular mechanisms by which RNaseL induces apoptosis, we expressed human RNaseL and 2-5OAS in HeLa cells using recombinant vaccinia viruses as vectors and we analysed in detail different biochemical markers of apoptosis. In this expression virus-cell system the activation of RNaseL, as index of rRNA degradation, is an upstream event of apoptosis induction. RNaseL induces apoptosis in a caspase-dependent manner (caspases 8, 9 and 2). At the beginning of apoptosis RNaseL and 2-5OAS are localized in the mitochondria and cytosol fractions, while at the onset of apoptosis both enzymes are largely in mitochondria. The 2-5A system induces the release of Cytochrome c from mitochondria to cytosol in a caspase dependent manner. The onset of apoptosis elicits the disruption of mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨm), as well as the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Moreover, the activation of RNaseL induces morphological alterations in the mitochondria. Apoptosis induced by the 2-5A system involves mitochondrial proteins, such as the human anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2, which blocks both the apoptosis and the change of ΔΨm induced by the activation of RNaseL. These findings provide new insights into the molecular mechanisms of apoptosis induction by the 2-5A system, demonstrating the importance of mitochondria in 2-5OAS/RNaseL-induced apoptosis.