A number of pro-apoptotic stimuli induce the activation of caspase-9, an initiator protease that activates executioner caspases, such as caspase-3, leading to the development of programmed cell death. Here we demonstrate that cell (platelets and pancreatic acinar cells) stimulation with agonists induces a bimodal activation of caspase-3. The early caspase-3 activation occurs within 1 min of stimulation and is independent on caspase-9 or mitochondrial cytochrome c release suggesting that is a non-apoptotic event. The ability of agonists to induce early activation of caspase-3 is similar to that observed for other physiological processes. Activation of caspase-3 by physiological concentrations of cellular agonists, including thrombin or CCK-8, is independent of rises in cytosolic calcium concentration but requires PKC activation, and is necessary for agonist-induced activation of the tyrosine kinases Btk and pp60src and for several cellular functions, including store-operated calcium entry, platelet aggregation, or pancreatic secretion. Thus, early activation of caspase-3 seems to be a non-apoptotic event required for cellular function. J. Cell. Physiol. 209: 142–152, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.