We have shown by a variety of microscopical and biochemical techniques that Salmonella spp. are cytotoxic for cultured J774A.1 and bone marrow-derived murine macrophages. The cytotoxicity is initially manifested by inhibition of membrane ruffling and macropinocytosis in infected macrophages, and is followed by cell death. Macrophages killed by Salmonella spp. exhibited features of apoptosis such as condensation and fragmentation of chromatin, membrane blebbing, and the presence of cytoplasmic nucleosomes and apoptotic bodies. Cytotoxicity does not require bacterial internalization as cytochalasin D, a drug that prevents bacterial uptake, did not prevent Salmonella-induced macrophage cell death. However, the cytotoxic effects are strictly dependent upon the expression of the invasion-associated Type III protein-secretion system encoded at centisome 63 of the Salmonella chromosome. Wild-type Salmonella typhimurium grown under conditions that do not allow optimal expression of this system or strains of Salmonella carrying mutations in genes that encode components of this protein-secretion system were devoid of macrophage cytotoxicity. In addition, mutations in invJ, spaO, sipB, sipC and sipD, which encode proteins that are secreted via this secretion apparatus and are required for bacterial entry into non-phagocytic cells, also abolished the toxicity. In contrast, mutations in sipA and sptP, which encode secreted proteins that are not required for bacterial invasion, had no effect on macrophage cytotoxicity. These results indicate a close correlation between the mechanisms of bacterial internalization into non-phagocytic cells and those that lead to macrophage cytotoxicity. Host-adapted serotypes of Salmonella such as S. typhi, S. gallinarum and S. dublin were also toxic for murine macrophages, indicating that this virulence property is probably present in most Salmonella spp. and is not associated with the mechanisms responsible for host range.