Bcl-2 is an oncogene that confers deregulated growth potential to B lymphocytes through its ability to inhibit apoptotic cell death. A specific molecular activity for the Bcl-2 protein has not been identified, but several lines of evidence have supported a role in protection of cells from oxidative stress. We investigated whether there is a correlation between expression of high levels of Bcl-2 and susceptibility of human Burkitt's lymphoma cell lines to H2O2-induced killing. The amount of H2O2 required to kill 50% of cells in 24 hours varied widely in the seven different lymphoma cell lines that were tested, ranging from 35 to 500 micromol/L H2O2. However, expression of high levels of endogenous Bcl-2 did not protect the cells from H2O2-induced killing, even though it was effective in protecting the cells from apoptosis induced by agents such as A23187. Thus, Bcl-2 was functional in preventing apoptosis but did not act in an antioxidant capacity. The results were confirmed using a Burkitt's lymphoma cell line overexpressing transfected bcl-2. The results may be explained by the observation that H2O2 was inefficient at inducing apoptosis in these mature B-cell lines. Nonapoptotic death induced by H2O2 was not prevented by Bcl-2.