High concentrations of adenosine (Ado), when added to L1210 lymphocytic leukemia cells, resulted in apoptosis or programmed cell death. The apoptotic process was accompanied by distinct morphological changes including chromatin condensation and blebbing of plasma membranes. Extensive DNA fragmentation was correlated with Ado concentrations. Furthermore, apoptosis in these cells was preceded by an early but transient expression of c-myc protooncogene,and was not influenced by homocysteine thiolactone added to the cells. Since severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) is associated with a deficiency of adenosine deaminase, leading to defects in both cellular and humoral immunity, Ado-induced apoptosis may thus be a contributing factor in the pathology of SCID.