The antileukemic activity of cytotoxic drugs is increasingly thought to be the result of induction of apoptosis. Several proto-oncogenes have been related to the regulation of this process. In this study we evaluated the relation between bcl-2 expression, spontaneous and dexamethasone (DXM) induced apoptosis, and in vitro resistance to DXM, prednisolone (PRO) and cytarabine (ARA) determined using the total cell kill colorimetric methyl-thiazol-tetrazolium salt (MTT) assay, in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Drug resistance was expressed as the LC50 value, the drug concentration lethal to 50% of the cells. Fourty-six samples taken at initial diagnosis (iALL) and 31 samples taken at relapse (rALL) were incubated in culture medium, with and without DXM. Bcl-2 expression and apoptosis were measured flowcytometrically, the latter using DNA histogram analysis. Bcl-2 expression was 1.4 fold higher in rALL than in iALL (p=0.008). Both spontaneous and DXM induced apoptosis increased significantly from 0 to 48 hours (in up to 71%, 81% of the cells respectively). Bcl-2 expression was inversely correlated with the extent of spontaneous apoptosis after 24 hours in iALL (r=-0.40, p=0.05). Relapsed samples, but not samples obtained at presentation, expressing high levels of bcl-2 displayed increased resistance to drug induced apoptosis (r=-0.63, p= 0.02). In iALL high bcl-2 expression appeared to be related to low LC50 values of ARA. No correlations were found for DXM or PRD. In conclusion, DXM excerts its cytotoxic effect at least partly by means of induction of apoptosis. Bcl-2 inhibits drug induced apoptosis in rALL. However in iALL bcl-2 expression is not associated with increased in vitro drug resistance, nor with increased resistance to drug induced apoptosis.