Manganese is known to induce neurological disorders similar to parkinsonisms. A dopamine deficiency has been demonstrated in Parkinson's disease and in chronic manganese poisoning, suggesting that the mechanisms underlying the neurotoxic effects of the metal ion are related to a functional abnormality of the extrapyramidal system. However, the details have yet to be elucidated. Here we report that manganese causes characteristic internucleosomal DNA fragmentation, a biochemical hallmark of apoptosis, in PC12 cells. It was transcription dependent, relatively specific for manganese, and blocked in Bcl-2-overexpressed PC12 cells. The results indicate that apoptosis may play a role in the dopaminergic neurotoxicity associated with manganese, the first metal to be reported to induce this form of cell death. The early biochemical events show the impairment of energy metabolism, and the process may require new synthesis of proteins such as c-Fos and c-Jun. In addition, manganese induces phosphorylation of c-Jun at Ser63 and Ser73 and SEK1/MKK4 (c-Jun N-terminal kinase kinase) at Thr258 and tyrosine phosphorylation of several proteins. These results indicate that manganese activates specific signal cascades including the c-Jun N-terminal kinase pathway.