Programmed cell death, with many of the morphological markers of apoptosis, is increasingly recognized as an important process in plant disease. We have investigated the involvement and potential role of apoptosis during the formation of leaf lesions by the fungus Leptospkaeria maculans on susceptible Brassica napus cv. Westar. There were no signs of host cell damage until 7 to 8 days postinoculation (dpi), when trypan-blue-stained leaf mesophyll cells were first detected. Hyphae were visible in the intercellular spaces of the inoculated area from 5 dpi and were associated with try pan-blue-stained cells at 8 to 9 dpi. Hallmarks of apoptosis, observed coincident with or immediately prior to the formation of leaf lesions at 8 to 10 dpi, included membrane shrinkage of the mesophyll cell cytoplasm, loss of cell to cell contact in mesophyll cells, and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling of nuclei in apparently "healthy" tissue immediately adjacent to dead areas. Hyphae were highly branched and prolific in the "healthy" tissue immediately adjacent to dead areas 9 to 10 dpi, and formed pycnidia inside dead areas 11 to 12 dpi. Coinfiltration of the tetrapeptide caspase inhibitor Ac-DEVD-CHO with spores of the pathogen significantly suppressed development of leaf lesions but did not affect fungus viability. We hypothesize that L. maculans elicits apoptosis as a dependent component of pathogenesis in susceptible B. napus, and that the fungus uses apoptotic cells as a source of nutrition for reproduction and further growth.