In mice, the Fas/Fas ligand (FasL) system has been shown to be involved in germ cell apoptosis. In the present study we evaluated the expression of Fas and Fas ligand (FasL) in fetal and adult human testis. Semiquantitative RT-PCR demonstrated the expression of Fas and FasL messenger ribonucleic acids in adult testis, but not in fetal testis (20-22 weeks gestation). In situ RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry experiments on adult human testis demonstrated the expression of FasL messenger ribonucleic acid and protein in Sertoli and Leydig cells, whereas the expression of Fas was confined to the Leydig cells and sporadic degenerating spermatocytes. The number of Fas-positive germ cells per 100 Sertoli cell nuclei was increased in 10 biopsies with postmeiotic germ cell arrest compared to 10 normal testis biopsies (mean, 3.82 +/- 0.45 vs. 2.02 +/- 0.29; P = 0.0001), but not in 10 biopsies with meiotic germ cell arrest (mean, 1.56 +/- 1.07). Fas and FasL proteins were not expressed in cases of idiopathic hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. Together, these findings may suggest that Fas/FasL expression in the human testis is developmentally regulated and under gonadotropin control. The increased germ cell expression of Fas in patients with postmeiotic germ cell arrest suggests that the Fas/FasL system may be involved in the quality control mechanism of the produced gametes.