Hippocampal neurons from the trisomy 16 (Ts16) mouse, a potential animal model of Down's syndrome (trisomy 21) and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease (AD), die at an accelerated rate in vitro. Here, we present evidence that the accelerated neuronal death in Ts16 occurs by apoptosis, as has been reported for neurons in AD. First, the nuclei of dying Ts16 neurons are pyknotic and undergo DNA fragmentation, as revealed by terminal transferase-mediated dUTP nick end-labeling. Second, the accelerated death of Ts16 neurons is prevented by inhibitors of the caspase family of proteases, which are thought to act at a late, obligatory step in the apoptosis pathway. In the presence of maximally effective concentrations of caspase inhibitors, Ts16 neuron survival was indistinguishable from that of control neurons. These results suggest that overexpression of one or more genes on mouse chromosome 16 leads to caspase-mediated apoptosis in Ts16 neurons.