Since cellular uptake of PEG [poly(ethylene glycol)]-liposomal L-OHP (oxaliplatin) induces bioactive changes in CRC (colorectal cancer), we have investigated its apoptotic effect and anticancer mechanism. Human CRC SW480 cells were treated with PEG-liposomal L-OHP and a caspase-8 inhibitor [Z-IETD-FMK (benzyloxycarbonyl-Ile-Glu-Thr-dl-Asp-fluoromethylketone)]. Apoptosis was measured by FCM (flow cytometry) and TUNEL (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labelling) assay. Expression of Fas/FasL and cytochrome c was detected using FCM and an immunofluorescence assay. Expression of caspase-8, Bid, caspase-9, caspase-7 and activated caspase-3 (P17) was examined by Western blot analyses. The results indicated that PEG-liposomal L-OHP (28 μg/ml L-OHP) induced marked apoptosis in SW480 cells compared with 28 μg/ml free L-OHP. The expression levels of Fas, FasL, cytochrome c, caspase-9, caspase-7 and activated caspase-3 proteins were up-regulated, with a corresponding increase in apoptosis; however, expression of caspase-8 and Bid were down-regulated as apoptosis increased. When cells were treated with Z-IETD-FMK, apoptosis was inhibited, but there was little impact on the expression of Fas, FasL, cytochrome c, Bid, caspase-9, caspase-7 and activated caspase-3. These findings indicate that PEG-liposomal L-OHP enhances the anticancer potency of the chemotherapeutic agent; moreover, Fas/FasL and caspase-8 signalling pathways play a key role in mediating PEG-liposomal L-OHP-induced apoptosis.