Interactions between the protein kinase C (PKC) activator/down-regulator bryostatin 1 and paclitaxel have been examined in human myeloid leukemia cells (U937) and in highly paclitaxel-resistant cells ectopically expressing a Bcl-2 phosphorylation loop-deleted protein (Delta Bcl-2). Treatment (24 hours) of wild-type cells with paclitaxel (eg, 5 to 20 nM) in combination with 10 nM bryostatin 1 induced a marked increase in mitochondrial damage (eg, cytochrome c and Smac/DIABLO [second mitochondria-derived activator of caspases/direct IAP binding protein with low pI] release), caspase activation, Bid cleavage, and apoptosis; moreover, bryostatin 1 circumvented the block to paclitaxel-induced mitochondrial injury and apoptosis conferred by ectopic expression of the loop-deleted protein. Coadministration of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) soluble receptors, or ectopic expression of CrmA or dominant-negative caspase-8, abrogated potentiation of paclitaxel-induced mitochondrial injury and apoptosis by bryostatin 1, implicating the extrinsic apoptotic pathway in this process. Similar events occurred in HL-60 leukemia cells. Potentiation of paclitaxel-induced apoptosis in wild-type and mutant cells by bryostatin 1 was associated with increases in TNF-alpha mRNA and protein and was mimicked by exogenous TNF-alpha. Coadministration of the selective PKC inhibitor GFX (1 microM) blocked the increase in TNF-alpha mRNA levels and apoptosis in bryostatin 1/paclitaxel-treated cells. Lastly, synchronization of cells in G(2)M increased their sensitivity to TNF-alpha-associated lethality. Collectively, these findings indicate that in U937 cells, bryostatin 1 promotes paclitaxel-mediated mitochondrial injury and apoptosis, and circumvents resistance to cell death conferred by loss of the Bcl-2 phosphorylation domain, through the PKC-dependent induction of TNF-alpha. They further suggest that this process is amplified by paclitaxel-mediated arrest of cells in G(2)M, where they are more susceptible to TNF-alpha-induced lethality.