Bile acids are steroid detergents that are toxic to mammalian cells at high concentrations; increased exposure to these steroids is pertinent in the pathogenesis of cholestatic disease and colon cancer. Understanding the mechanisms of bile acid toxicity and apoptosis, which could include nonspecific detergent effects and/or specific receptor activation, has potential therapeutic significance. In this report we investigate the ability of synthetic enantiomers of lithocholic acid (ent-LCA), chenodeoxycholic acid (ent-CDCA), and deoxycholic acid (ent-DCA)to induce toxicity and apoptosis in HT-29 and HCT-116 cells. Natural bile acids were found to induce more apoptotic nuclear morphology, cause increased cellular detachment, and lead to greater capase-3 and -9 cleavage compared with enantiomeric bile acids in both cell lines. In contrast, natural and enantiomeric bile acids showed similar effects on cellular proliferation. These data show that bile acid-induced apoptosis in HT-29 and HCT-116 cells is enantiospecific, hence correlated with the absolute configuration of the bile steroid rather than its detergent properties. The mechanism of LCA- and ent-LCA-induced apoptosis was also investigated in HT-29 and HCT-116 cells. These bile acids differentially activate initiator caspases-2 and -8 and induce cleavage of full-length Bid. LCA and ent-LCA mediated apoptosis was inhibited by both pan-caspase and selective caspase-8 inhibitors, whereas a selective caspase-2 inhibitor provided no protection. LCA also induced increased CD95 localization to the plasma membrane and generated increased reactive oxygen species compared with ent-LCA. This suggests that LCA/ ent-LCA induce apoptosis enantioselectively through CD95 activation, likely because of increased reactive oxygen species generation, with resulting procaspase-8 cleavage.