To determine whether interferon alfa (IFN-α) prevents in vivo oncogenesis in very-early-stage cancer cells, we evaluated the action of IFN-α2b over preneoplastic foci in rats. Animals were divided into 6 groups: subjected to a 2-phase model (diethylnitrosamine [DEN] plus 2-acetylaminofluorene [2-AAF]) of preneoplasia development (group 1), treated with IFN-α2b during the 2 phases (group 2), only during initiation with DEN (group 3), only during administration of 2-AAF (group 4), subjected only to an initiation stage (group 5), and treated with IFN-α2b during this period (group 6). The numbers of placental form of rat glutathione S-transferase (rGST-P)-positive foci per liver and the foci as percentage of liver were significantly reduced in groups 2, 3, and 6 but not in group 4. Rats treated with IFN-α2b showed a higher apoptotic index (AI) in altered hepatic foci (AHF). Levels of p53 and Bax protein in liver lysates were significantly increased in those animals. Similarly, levels of antiapoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL in mitochondrial fraction were decreased. Finally, increased levels of Bax protein were localized in the mitochondria of rats that received IFN-α2b, at least during the DEN phase (groups 2, 3, and 6), whereas mitochondrial Bax expression was not increased in group 4. In conclusion, the preneoplastic hepatocytes in rats that received IFN-α2b during the initiation stage undergo programmed cell death as a primary result of a significant increase in the amount and translocation to the mitochondria of Bax protein.