Expression of the proapoptotic protein Bax under the control of a GAL10 promoter in Saccharomyces cerevisiae resulted in galactose-inducible cell death. Immunofluorescence studies suggested that Bax is principally associated with mitochondria in yeast cells. Removal of the carboxyl-terminal transmembrane (TM) domain from Bax [creating Bax (ΔTM)] prevented targeting to mitochondrial and completely abolished cytotoxic function in yeast cells, suggesting that membrane targeting is crucial for Bax-mediated lethality. Fusing a TM domain from Mas70p, a yeast mitochondrial outer membrane protein, to Bax (ΔTM) restored targeting to mitochondria and cytotoxic function in yeast cells. Deletion of four well-conserved amino acids (IGDE) from the BH3 domain of Bax ablated its ability to homodimerize and completely abrogated lethality in yeast cells. In contrast, several Bax mutants which retained ability to homodimerize (ΔBH1, ABH2, and Δ1-58) also retained at least partial lethal function in yeast cells. In coimmunoprecipitation experiments, expression of the wild-type Bax protein in Rat-1 fibroblasts and 293 epithelial cells induced apoptosis, whereas the Bax (ΔIGDE) mutant failed to induce apoptosis and did not associate with endogenous wild-type Bax protein. In contrast to yeast cells, Bax (ΔTM) protein retained cytotoxic function in Rat-1 and 293 cells, was targeted largely to mitochondria, and dimerized with endogenous Bax in mammalian cells. Thus, the dimerization-mediating BH3 domain and targeting to mitochondrial membranes appear to be essential for the cytotoxic function of Bax in both yeast and mammalian cells.