Cells undergoing apoptosis (programmed cell death) display profound morphologic and biochemical changes in the nucleus, cytoplasm, and plasma membrane. We have shown a direct temporal relationship between the onset of apoptosis in Jurkat T-cell lymphoblast cultures and a greater than two-fold increase in the signal intensity of the methylene resonance (at 1.3 ppm) as observed by proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H NMR). The increase in the methylene resonance intensity was seen when apoptosis was induced by serum deprivation, glucocorticoid, and doxorubicin treatment but not in necrotic (nonapoptotic) cell death. We have found similar changes in a variety of other cell lines undergoing apoptosis including the Hut 78 T-cell leukemia, JY natural killer T-cell leukemia, Daudi B-cell lymphoma, HeLa, and 3T3 fibroblast cell lines. Furthermore, this spectral change was diminished in Bcl-2 overexpressing HL-60 cell cultures treated with doxorubicin, which were relatively resistant to apoptosis, as compared to apoptotic HL-60 cultures. 1H NMR spectroscopy therefore may be useful in detecting apoptotic cell death in vivo.