Ceramide is a key mediator of apoptosis, yet its role in Fas-mediated apoptosis is controversial. Some reports have indicated that ceramide is either a primary signaling molecule in Fas-induced cell death, or that it functions upstream of Fas by increasing FasL expression. Other studies have suggested that ceramide is not relevant to Fas-induced cell death. We have approached this problem by studying ceramide-induced apoptosis in unique Jurkat cell clones selected for resistance to membrane-bound FasL-induced death. Resistance of the mutant Jurkat cells was specific for FasL killing, since the mutant clones were sensitive to other apoptotic stimuli such as cycloheximide and staurosporine. We tested the effects of serum withdrawal, one of the strongest inducers of ceramide, and of exogenous ceramide on apoptosis of both wild-type and FasL-resistant clones. Wild-type Jurkat cells were remarkably sensitive to serum withdrawal and to exogenous ceramide. In contrast all FasL-resistant mutant clones were resistant to these apoptosis-inducing conditions. In contrast to previous work, we did not detect an increase in FasL in either wild-type or mutant clones. Moreover activation of stress-activated protein kinases (JNK/SAPKs) after serum withdrawal and exogenous ceramide treatment was detected only in the wild-type and not in the resistant clones. Because of the parallel resistance of the mutant clones to Fas and to ceramide-induced apoptosis, our data support the notion that ceramide is a second messenger for the Fas/FasL pathway and that serum withdrawal, through production of ceramide, shares a common step with the Fas-mediated apoptotic pathway. Finally, our data suggest that activation of JNK/SAPKs is a common mediator of the three pathways tested.