Aberrant apoptosis-mediated cell death is believed to result in a number of different human diseases. For example, excessive apoptosis in the liver can result in fulminant and autoimmune forms of hepatitis. We have explored the possibility that inhibition of Fas expression in mice would reduce the severity of fulminant hepatitis. To do this, we have developed a chemically modified 2'-O-(2-methoxy)ethyl antisense oligonucleotide (ISIS 22023) inhibitor of mouse Fas expression. In tissue culture, this oligonucleotide induced a reduction in Fas mRNA expression that was both concentration- and sequence-specific. In Balb/c mice, dosing with ISIS 22023 reduced Fas mRNA and protein expressions in liver by 90%. The ID50 for this response was 8-10 mg kg-1 daily dosing, and the reduction was highly dependent on oligonucleotide sequence, oligonucleotide concentration in liver, and treatment time. Pretreatment with ISIS 22023 completely protected mice from fulminant hepatitis induced by agonistic Fas antibody, by a mechanism entirely consistent with an oligonucleotide antisense mechanism of action. In addition, oligonucleotide-mediated suppression of Fas expression reduced the severity of acetaminophen-mediated fulminant hepatitis, but was without effect on concanavalin A-mediated hepatitis. Our results demonstrate that 2'-O-(2-methoxy)ethyl containing antisense oligonucleotides targeting Fas can exert in vivo pharmacological activity in liver, and suggest that oligonucleotide inhibitors of Fas may be useful in the treatment of human liver disease.