AIM To observe if staurosporine induced apoptosis in NG108-15 cells and its effect on protein expression level of several genes related to apoptosis. METHODS Phase-contrast microscopy, fluorescence microscopy, and transmission electron microscopy were used to observe staurosporine-induced morphological changes. Agarose gel electrophoresis was used to detect DNA fragmentation. Western blots were used to measure protein expression level of several genes related to apoptosis. RESULTS Cells treated with staurosporine 0.1 micromol/L showed typical morphological changes of apoptosis. A "ladder" pattern representing fragmentation of DNA into oligonucleosome length fragments was observed after 6 h of staurosporine treatment and sustained until 24 h. The Bax expression increased significantly at 6 h after exposure to staurosporine, peaked at 12 h compared with vehicle cultures, and decreased at 24 h. The Bcl-2 expression increased and reached the highest level at 3 h. It was then decreased gradually but still higher than normal expression level. There was an obvious caspase-3 cleavage at 6 h after exposing the cells to staurosporine. Treatment with staurosporine for 12 h markedly decreased the expression of p53 protein. Cdk5 protein expression did not have obvious changes after the cells were exposed to staurosporine. CONCLUSION Staurosporine induced apoptotic death in NG108-15 cells. Cells might die via a pathway that is dependent on Bax expression but independent of p53, and caspase-3 cleavage was involved.