Activation of the Fas cell surface molecule, either by specific antibody or by its as yet unidentified ligand, has been shown to induce apoptosis. Because apoptosis is also evoked in target cells by cytolytic T cells, we investigated whether the Fas pathway is involved in CD4+ T cell-mediated cytotoxicity. Analysis of Fas expression in APC, such as the B lymphoma A20.2J and MHC class II-transfected fibroblasts RT2.3, revealed a correlation between the degree of expression and sensitivity to cytotoxic attack, high level of Fas expression in A20.2J being associated with efficient lysis. To examine whether increased Fas expression in RT2.3 would render these cells more susceptible to CD4+ CTL lysis, they were transfected with a Fas gene expression vector. Indeed, Fas- but not mock-transfected RT2.3 proved to be more sensitive to lysis by either Ag specifically or nonspecifically activated CD4+ CTL. Similarly, MHC class II-negative, Fas-transfected L1210 leukemia cells were lysed with nonspecifically activated CD4+ CTL. The importance of the Fas engagement in CD4+ CTL-mediated cytotoxicity is further substantiated by the failure of both cloned and normal CD4+ CTL to lyse B cell blasts from Ipr mice. These mice are known to have a defect in functional Fas expression. Although the bulk of CD4+ T cell-mediated lysis appears to be Fas induced, the fact that the effector phase of A20.2J lysis is only partially Ca2+ independent indicates that other pathways also contribute to target cell death.