Cell shrinkage and loss of cell viability by apoptosis have been examined in cultured CD95(Fas/Apo-1)-expressing leukemia-derived CEM and HL-60 cells subjected to acute deprivation of glutamine, a major compatible osmolyte engaged in cell volume control. Glutamine deprivation-mediated cell shrinkage promoted a ligand-independent activation of the CD95-mediated apoptotic pathway. Cell transfection with plasmids expressing FADD-DN or v-Flip viral proteins pointed to a functional clustering of CD95 receptors at the cell surface with activation of the 'extrinsic pathway' caspase cascade. Accordingly, cell shrinkage did not induce apoptosis in CD95 receptor-negative lymphoma L1210 cells. Replacement of glutamine with surrogate compatible osmolytes counteracted cell volume decrement and protected the CD95-expressing cells from apoptosis. A glutamine deprivation-dependent cell shrinkage with activation of the CD95-mediated pathway was also observed when asparaginase was added to the medium. Asparagine depletion had no role in this process. The cell-size shrinkage-dependent apoptosis induced by glutamine restriction in CD95-expressing leukemic cells may therefore be of clinical relevance in amidohydrolase enzyme therapies.