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Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a common air pollutant that is released in low concentrations into the atmosphere and in higher concentrations in some work places. In the present study, male Wistar rats were housed in exposure chambers and treated with 14.00 ± 1.01, 28.00 ± 1.77, and 56.00 ± 3.44 mg/m3 SO2 for 7 days (6 hr/day), while control rats were exposed to filtered air under the same conditions. The mRNA and protein levels of caspase-3, caspase-8, and caspase-9 were analyzed using a real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (real-time RT-PCR) assay and an immunohistochemistry method. Activities of caspases were detected using colorimetric and fluorescent assays. Chromatin degradation and cell morphological changes were investigated by TUNEL assay and H&E staining in livers and lungs, respectively. The results showed that mRNA levels, protein levels and activities of caspase-3, caspase-8, and caspase-9 were increased in a dose-dependent manner in livers and lungs of rats after SO2 inhalation. In addition, livers were infiltrated with lymphocytes, congestion and inflammation occurred in lungs, and eosinophil cells and apoptotic cells increased in both livers and lungs after SO2 inhalation. These results suggest that SO2 exposure increases the expression and activity of both initiator and and effector caspases, and may induce apoptosis in liver and lung of rats through both death receptor and mitochondrial pathways. Environ. Mol. Mutagen. 51:112–122, 2010.