Mitoxantrone has been shown in vitro to exhibit a steep dose-response relationship with respect to the clonogenic survival of acute myeloid leukemia cells. In this report, we show that 1-hour exposure of human myeloid leukemia HL-60 and KG-1 cells to mitoxantrone concentrations ranging between 0.1 and 10.0 mumol/L induced internucleosomal DNA fragmentation of approximately 200-bp integer multiples, characteristic of cells undergoing programmed cell death (PCD) or apoptosis. Mitoxantrone-mediated PCD was associated with a steep inhibition of the clonogenic survival of the leukemic cells. In addition, intracellularly, mitoxantrone-induced PCD was associated with a marked induction of c-jun and significant repression of c-myc and BCL-2 oncogenes. Pretreatment with the protein kinase C stimulator phorbol myristate acetate enhanced mitoxantrone-induced internucleosomal DNA fragmentation, whereas protein kinase C inhibitors staurosporine and H7 had no effect. These findings suggest that PCD is a potential mechanism underlying the steep dose-response relationship of mitoxantrone to the inhibition of clonogenic survival of acute myeloid leukemia cells.