Fas is a mouse monoclonal antibody-defined cell surface antigen of an unknown physiologic function. Previous studies demonstrated that the anti-Fas antibody mediated apoptosis in those cells sensitive to tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and, further, triggered the co-downregulation of tumor necrosis factor receptors (TNF-Rs). These findings led to speculation that Fas may be associated with TNF-Rs. The present studies were undertaken as an extension of our previous work on the obligate requirement for TNF in development and maintenance of cytotoxic lymphocytes and were designed to analyze the expression and consequences of Fas engagement in these cells. Herein, we demonstrate that, in contrast to TNF-R expression, both resting and IL-2-activated lymphocytes express Fas. In accordance with previous studies using tumor cell lines, lymphocytes rapidly downregulate TNF-Rs after treatment with anti-Fas. The ability of anti-Fas to mediate apoptotic cell death in lymphocytes, however, was dependent upon the status of cellular activation. For example, lymphocytes activated in IL-2 for longer than 4 days underwent rapid DNA fragmentation and cell death after anti-Fas treatment. Despite their expression of Fas, nonactivated lymphocytes and those activated for periods less than 4 days were refractory to antibody-mediated cell killing. Because anti-Fas-mediated lethality is selective for chronically activated lymphocytes, Fas may prove to be an appropriate target for immunosuppressive intervention.