Neutrophils have a very short life span and undergo apoptosis within 24 hours after leaving the bone marrow. Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) is essential for the recruitment of fresh neutrophils from the bone marrow but also delays apoptosis of mature neutrophils. To determine the mechanism by which G-CSF inhibits neutrophil apoptosis, the kinetics of neutrophil apoptosis during 24 hours in the absence or presence of G-CSF were analyzed in vitro. G-CSF delayed neutrophil apoptosis for approximately 12 hours and inhibited caspase-9 and -3 activation, but had virtually no effect on caspase-8 and little effect on the release of proapoptotic proteins from the mitochondria. However, G-CSF strongly inhibited the activation of calcium-dependent cysteine proteases calpains, upstream of caspase-3, via apparent control of Ca(2+)-influx. Calpain inhibition resulted in the stabilization of the X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis (XIAP) and hence inhibited caspase-9 and -3 in human neutrophils. Thus, neutrophil apoptosis is controlled by G-CSF after initial activation of caspase-8 and mitochondrial permeabilization by the control of postmitochondrial calpain activity.