Tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) is a potent inducer of apoptosis in sensitive cells and may be suitable for novel anti-cancer therapies aimed at inducing apoptosis via the activation of TRAIL receptors on malignant cells. Here we have characterized the TRAIL sensitivity of a panel of Burkitt's lymphoma (BL) cell lines. Overall, 5/12 BL cell lines and 1/2 lymphoblastoid cell lines were sensitive to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, although only one BL cell line approached the sensitivity of Jurkat cells, a widely used model for TRAIL-induced apoptosis. Whereas, 4/5 of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-negative cell lines were TRAIL sensitive, only 1/7 EBV-positive BL cell lines were TRAIL sensitive. However, isogenic BL cell lines with different EBV status were not differently sensitive to TRAIL, indicating that EBV is not a major determinant of TRAIL sensitivity. All cell lines expressed the death receptor (DR)5 TRAIL receptor, whereas expression of DR4 was more variable. Differences in the expression of downstream signalling molecules [Fas-associated death domain protein (FADD), caspase 8] and inhibitors [decoy receptor 1 (DcR1), cellular FLICE-like inhibitory protein (c-FLIP)] did not correlate with TRAIL sensitivity. Therefore, a subset of BL cell lines are sensitive to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, however, the molecular mechanism that determines responsiveness remains to be identified.