TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) shares significant homology with CD95 (Fas) ligand and has the ability to induce apoptosis in sensitive cells through a caspase-mediated pathway. We have evaluated the activity of purified human recombinant soluble TRAIL (S-TRAIL, comprising residues 114-281; Biomol, Plymouth Meeting, PA, USA) and a leucine zipper construct of TRAIL (LZ-TRAIL; Immunex, Seattle WA, USA) against myeloma cell lines NCI H929, U266, RPMI 8226, the FasL-sensitive Jurkat T cell ALL line, the lymphoblastoid cell line MC/CAR and primary tumour cells from 16 myeloma patients. Furthermore, we examined the relationship between TRAIL-induced apoptosis and TRAIL receptor expression utilising RT-PCR and flow cytometry. Two of three myeloma cell lines and Jurkat were TRAIL sensitive whereas MC/CAR was relatively resistant. Five of 16 (31%) primary tumours demonstrated > or =20% reduction in myeloma cells following TRAIL incubation (20-59%). This did not correlate with prior therapy. Four cell lines (two sensitive) and five primary tumours (two sensitive) demonstrated mRNA expression of the intra-cellular death domain containing TRAIL-R1. Variable expression of the two decoy (TRAIL-R3 and R4) and soluble (osteoprotegerin) receptors was seen and this did not correlate with TRAIL resistance. We conclude that myeloma cell expression of death effector receptors for TRAIL is insufficient to confer sensitivity to TRAIL-induced apoptosis but that in a significant minority of patients, irrespective of prior therapy, tumour cells are sensitive to TRAIL. The further investigation of TRAIL as an adjunct to presently available therapies for myeloma is justified.