In this study, to examine the mechanism of diethyl phthalate toxicity to cells, the effects of diethyl phthalate on apoptosis in a PC12 cell system were investigated by assaying apoptotic factors such as caspase-3, Bax, cytochrome c and DNA damage. Diethyl phthalate was shown to enhance the apoptosis induced by serum deprivation according to the results of DNA electrophoresis and TUNEL signal assays, although it could not induce apoptosis itself in the cells. This enhancement was thought to be because of an increase in caspase-3-like activity. In addition, the expression of bax and contents of cytochrome c in the cytosol showed a tendency to increase the cells exposed to diethyl phthalate. These results indicated that diethyl phthalate, a potential endocrine disrupter, affects the apoptotic system in PC12 cells. Diethyl phthalate may enhance oxidative stress such as that induced by reactive oxygen species in PC12 cells.