Colonic epithelial cell injury is the common manifestation of inflammatory diseases of the bowel. One form of epithelial injury is apoptosis. In our study, we investigated the mechanism leading to apoptosis in HT-29 cells in response to TNF-alpha and ligation of Fas Ag. HT-29 displayed a dual response to TNF-alpha and Fas Ag ligation: in combination with IFN-gamma, HT-29 cells underwent apoptosis, whereas independently, these factors stimulated secretion of IL-8. We used this model of immune-mediated epithelial cell injury to elucidate the signals leading to apoptosis in response to TNF-alpha and Fas Ag ligation compared with the signals leading to induction of IL-8 secretion. The model was further used to distinguish signaling differences between TNF-alpha receptors and the Fas Ag in this cell line. The experiments presented here demonstrate that Fas Ag ligation alone led to production of IL-8 by colonic epithelial cells and represented another function mediated by Fas Ag in addition to apoptosis. This study shows that the pathways leading to cell death and IL-8 production in response to Fas Ag ligation and TNF-alpha were similar with regard to their requirements for new gene expression, protein synthesis, and protein kinase activity. Specifically, new gene expression and protein synthesis were not necessary for TNF-alpha- and Fas Ag-mediated apoptosis, but were necessary for TNF-alpha- and Fas Ag-mediated IL-8 secretion. Tyrosine protein kinase phosphorylation was necessary to signal secretion of IL-8 in response to both agonists but it was not necessary for apoptosis. In spite of the similarities between these two agonists, the kinetics of apoptosis via Fas Ag were significantly more rapid than through the TNF-alpha receptor and serve to distinguish these two signals.