Fas receptor-induced apoptosis plays critical roles in immune homeostasis. However, most of the signal transduction events distal to Fas ligation have not been elucidated. Here, we show that Ras is activated following ligation of Fas on lymphoid lines. The activation of Ras is a critical component of this apoptotic pathway, since inhibition of Ras by neutralizing antibody or a dominant-negative Ras mutant interfered with Fas-induced apoptosis. Furthermore, ligation of Fas also resulted in stimulation of the sphingomyelin signalling pathway to produce ceramides, which, in turn, are capable of inducing both Ras activation and apoptosis. This suggests that ceramides acts as second messengers in Fas signaling via Ras. Thus, ligation of the Fas molecule on lymphocyte lines induces activation of Ras via the action of ceramide, and this activation is necessary, but not sufficient, for subsequent apoptosis.