The Fas ligand (FasL), a member of the tumor necrosis factor family, induces apoptosis in Fas-bearing cells. The membrane-bound human FasL was found to be converted to a soluble form (sFasL) by the action of a matrix metalloproteinase-like enzyme. Two neutralizing monoclonal anti-human FasL antibodies were identified, and an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for sFasL in human sera was established. Sera from healthy persons did not contain a detectable level of sFasL, whereas those from patients with large granular lymphocytic (LGL) leukemia and natural killer (NK) cell lymphoma did. These malignant cells constitutively expressed FasL, whereas peripheral NK cells from healthy persons expressed FasL only on activation. These results suggested that the systemic tissue damage seen in most patients with LGL leukemia and NK-type lymphoma is due to sFasL produced by these malignant cells. Neutralizing anti-FasL antibodies or matrix metalloproteinase inhibitors may be of use in modulating such tissue damage.