Overexpression of the prosurvival protein Bcl-2 marks many B-lymphoid malignancies and contributes to resistance to many commonly used chemotherapeutic agents. The first effective BH3 mimetic inhibitors of Bcl-2, ABT-737 and navitoclax, also target Bcl-xL, causing dose-limiting thrombocytopenia. This prompted the development of the Bcl-2-selective antagonist, ABT-199. Here we show that in lymphoid cells, ABT-199 specifically causes Bax/Bak-mediated apoptosis that is triggered principally by the initiator BH3-only protein Bim. As expected, malignant cells isolated from patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia are highly sensitive to ABT-199. However, we found that normal, untransformed mature B cells are also highly sensitive to ABT-199, both in vitro and in vivo. By contrast, the B-cell precursors are largely spared, as are cells of myeloid origin. These results pinpoint the probable impact of the pharmacological inhibition of Bcl-2 by ABT-199 on the normal mature haemopoietic cell lineages in patients, and have implications for monitoring during ABT-199 therapy as well as for the clinical utility of this very promising targeted agent.