4-1BB was originally described as a cDNA expressed by activated murine T cells and subsequently demonstrated to encode a member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor family of integral membrane proteins. Recently, we identified and cloned a murine ligand for 4-1BB (mu4-1BB-L) and demonstrated it to be a member of an emerging family of ligands with structural homology to tumor necrosis factor. To characterize further the role of 4-1BB in the immune response we undertook to clone the human homologue of 4-1BB-L. However, attempts to isolate a cDNA encoding the human 4-1BB-L by cross-hybridization with the murine cDNA were unsuccessful. Therefore we first utilized cross-species hybridization to isolate a cDNA encoding human 4-1BB (hu4-1BB). A fusion protein consisting of the extracellular portion of hu4-1BB coupled to the Fc region of human immunoglobulin G1 (hu4-1BB.Fc) was then used to identify and clone a gene for human 4-1BB-L from an activated CD4+ T cell clone using a direct expression cloning strategy. Human 4-1BB-L shows 36% amino acid identity with its murine counterpart and maps to chromosome 19p13.3. Scatchard analysis demonstrated high-affinity binding of hu4-1BB.Fc to either native or recombinant human 4-1BB-L. Both monoclonal antibody to hu4-1BB and cells transfected with hu4-1BB-L induced a strong proliferative response in mitogen co-stimulated primary T cells. In contrast, ligation of 4-1BB on T cell clones enhanced activation-induced cell death when triggered by engagement of the TCR/CD3 complex.