Short-chain fatty acids play a critical role in colonic homeostasis because they stimulate pathways of growth arrest, differentiation, and apoptosis. These effects have been well characterized in colonic cell lines in vitro. We investigated the role of beta-catenin-Tcf signaling in these responses to butyrate and other well-characterized inducers of apoptosis of colonic epithelial cells. Unlike wild-type APC, which down-regulates Tcf activity, butyrate, as well as sulindac and trichostatin A, all inducers of G0-G1 cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in the SW620 colonic carcinoma cell line, up-regulate Tcf activity. In contrast, structural analogues of butyrate that do not induce cell cycle arrest or apoptosis and curcumin, which stimulates G2-M arrest without inducing apoptosis, do not alter Tcf activity. Similar to the cell cycle arrest and apoptotic cascade induced by butyrate, the up-regulation of Tcf activity is dependent upon the presence of a mitochondrial membrane potential, unlike the APC-induced down-regulation, which is insensitive to collapse of the mitochondrial membrane potential. Moreover, the butyrate-induced increase in Tcf activity, which is reflected in an increase in beta-catenin-Tcf complex formation, is independent of the down-regulation caused by expression of wild-type APC. Thus, butyrate and wild-type APC have different and independent effects on beta-catenin-Tcf signaling. These data are consistent with other reports that suggest that the absence of wild-type APC, associated with the up-regulation of this signaling pathway, is linked to the probability of a colonic epithelial cell entering an apoptotic cascade.