ABSTRACT We investigated the presence of osteocyte apoptosis in the necrotic trabeculae of the femoral head of spontaneously hypertensive rat (SHR) using the in situ nick end labeling (TUNEL) method and transmission electron microscopy. The occurrence of osteonecrosis and ossification disturbance was significantly higher in SHR compared with Wistar Kyoto (WKY) rats, and Wistar (WT) rats used as control animals (P < 0.01). A high population of TUNEL positive osteocytes was detected mainly in 10- and 15-week-old SHRs. Sectioned examination of the femoral head of SHRs and WKY rats by electron microscopy revealed apoptotic cell appearances such as aggregation of chromatin particles and lipid formation. In contrast, a positive reaction was significantly lower in osteocytes in the femoral heads of WT rats (P < 0.01). Our results indicate that apoptosis forms an important component of the global pathologic process affecting the femoral head of SHR, which leads to osteonecrosis in this region.