In the colon of ulcerative colitis (UC) patients, apoptotic bodies have been recognized in routine histopathological preparations. To investigate the extent of the apoptosis, colonic biopsies were examined from involved and uninvolved areas of untreated active UC and from normal areas in patients with colonic polyps, utilizing various markers of apoptosis. The markers included DNA breaks detected by TUNEL, Fas (CD95/APO-1) and Fas ligand (Fas-L) localized by immunohistochemistry, electron microscopic features of apoptosis, and laddering of extracted DNA. Apoptosis marker positive cells were found mainly on the luminal epithelium of the normal colon and were present in active UC in crypts of involved and uninvolved areas of the colon, in addition to the luminal epithelium. The DNA extracted from active UC colon electrophoresed as a ladder. These findings suggest that the loss of epithelial cells in active UC occurs mainly by apoptosis in crypts of involved and adjacent uninvolved areas and that the Fas/Fas-L interaction is a mediator of the apoptosis.