Although specific proteinases play a critical role in the active phase of apoptosis, their substrates are largely unknown. We previously identified poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) as an apoptosis-associated substrate for proteinase(s) related to interleukin 1 beta-converting enzyme (ICE). Now we have used a cell-free system to characterize proteinase(s) that cleave the nuclear lamins during apoptosis. Lamin cleavage during apoptosis requires the action of a second ICE-like enyzme, which exhibits kinetics of cleavage and a profile of sensitivity to specific inhibitors that is distinct from the PARP proteinase. Thus, multiple ICE-like enzymes are required for apoptotic events in these cell-free extracts. Inhibition of the lamin proteinase with tosyllysine "chloromethyl ketone" blocks nuclear apoptosis prior to the packaging of condensed chromatin into apoptotic bodies. Under these conditions, the nuclear DNA is fully cleaved to a nucleosomal ladder. Our studies reveal that the lamin proteinase and the fragmentation nuclease function in independent parallel pathways during the final stages of apoptotic execution. Neither pathway alone is sufficient for completion of nuclear apoptosis. Instead, the various activities cooperate to drive the disassembly of the nucleus.