Exposure to bleomycin in rodents induces lung injury and fibrosis. Alveolar epithelial cell death has been hypothesized as an initiating mechanism underlying bleomycin-induced lung injury and fibrosis. In the present study we evaluated the contribution of mitochondrial and receptor- meditated death pathways in bleomycin-induced death of mouse alveolar epithelial cells ( MLE-12 cells) and primary rat alveolar type II cells. Control MLE-12 cells and primary rat alveolar type II cells died after 48 h of exposure to bleomycin. Both MLE-12 cells and rat alveolar type II cells overexpressing Bcl-XL did not undergo cell death in response to bleomycin. Dominant negative Fas-associating protein with a death domain failed to prevent bleomycin-induced cell death in MLE-12 cells. Caspase-8 inhibitor CrmA did not prevent bleomycin-induced cell death in primary rat alveolar type II cells. Furthermore, fibroblast cells deficient in Bax and Bak, but not Bid, were resistant to bleomycin-induced cell death. To determine whether the stress kinase JNK was an upstream regulator of Bax activation, MLE-12 cells were exposed to bleomycin in the presence of an adenovirus encoding a dominant negative JNK. Bleomycin- induced Bax activation was prevented by the expression of a dominant negative JNK in MLE-12 cells. Dominant negative JNK prevented cell death in MLE-12 cells and in primary rat alveolar type II cells exposed to bleomycin. These data indicate that bleomycin induces cell death through a JNK-dependent mitochondrial death pathway in alveolar epithelial cells.