The ability of medium from γ-irradiated cells to induce early events in the apoptotic cascade, such as the mobilization of intracellular calcium, loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and increased levels of reactive oxygen species, in unirradiated cells was investigated. Medium from irradiated human keratinocytes was harvested and transferred to unirradiated keratinocytes. Intracellular calcium levels, mitochondrial membrane potential and the level of reactive oxygen species were all monitored for a period of 24 h following medium transfer. Rapid calcium fluxes (within 30 s), loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and increases in reactive oxygen species (from 6 h after medium transfer) were observed. There was no significant difference between the effects of medium generated by cells irradiated at 0.5 Gy or 5 Gy. The data suggest that a signal that leads to apoptosis is released from cells undergoing radiation-induced oxidative stress.