The incidence of apoptosis and the expression of Fas antigen (Fas)/Fas ligand (FasL) mRNA in bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis in mice were examined. Male ICR mice were intratracheally instilled with bleomycin (5 U/kg of body weight). The controls were injected with sterile saline. The animals were anesthetized and killed at 1, 6, and 12 h, and 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 14 days after bleomycin instillation. We assessed the incidence of apoptosis in lung tissues by DNA fragmentation on agarose gel electrophoresis, terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP biotin nick end-labeling, and electron microscopy. The expression of Fas and FasL mRNA was detected by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). The localization of Fas mRNA was analyzed by in situ hybridization and that of FasL mRNA was analyzed by RT in situ PCR. The results showed that (1) a single instillation of bleomycin leads to the rapid appearance of apoptosis in bronchial and alveolar epithelial cells, which resolves within 1 day, and (2) apoptosis reappears on day 7 and continues for over 14 days after bleomycin instillation. This was accompanied with a progression of fibrosis. Corticosteroid administration completely blocked both apoptosis and fibrosis. The expression of Fas mRNA was upregulated in the alveolar epithelial cells by the bleomycin instillation. FasL mRNA was also upregulated in infiltrating lymphocytes after bleomycin treatment, but not in the control mice. The administration of corticosteroids suppressed the expression of Fas and FasL mRNA as well as apoptosis and fibrosis. Although these results do not show that apoptosis mediated by the Fas/FasL system is directly linked to bleomycin-induced fibrosis, we speculate that excessive apoptosis and the Fas/FasL system play a role in the pathogenesis of bleomycin-induced lung injury.