Malignant glioma cells are susceptible to CD95(Fas/APO-)-mediated apoptosis triggered by agonistic antibody. Here we examined the proapoptotic effects of the natural CD95 ligand, a cytotoxic cytokine homologous to tumor necrosis factor, on malignant glioma cell lines LN-229, LN-308 and T98G. We assessed whether glioma cell killing is synergistically enhanced by cotreatment with CD95 ligand and chemotherapeutic agents, including doxorubicin, carmustine, vincristine, etoposide, teniposide, 5-fluorouracil and cytarabine. Synergy was examined at low concentrations of cytotoxic drugs and CD95 ligand with a defined effect level (IC15). Short-term-cytotoxicity assays showed prominent killing of the glioma cells by CD95 ligand but not by the drugs at relevant concentrations. CD95 ligand induced apoptosis in the acute toxicity paradigm was augmented by doxorubicin and vincristine. Growth-inhibition assays revealed prominent synergy between CD95 ligand and all drugs examined. The best synergy was obtained with CD95 ligand and doxorubicin, vincristine or teniposide. The strong synergistic antiproliferative effects were observed at much lower concentrations of CD95 ligand and cytotoxic drugs than the moderate synergistic acute cytotoxic effects. All cell lines examined express the Bcl-2 protein. LN-229 has partial wild-type p53 activity. T98G has mutant p53, LN-308 has a deleted p53 gene and lacks p53 protein expression. Thus, synergistic effects of CD95 ligand and cytotoxic drugs were observed in cell lines exhibiting two features thought to play a role in the chemoresistance of human malignant glioma cells: loss of wild-type p53 activity and acquisition of bcl-2 expression. Ectopic expression of murine bcl-2 conferred partial protection from CD95 ligand and drugs when administered alone but did not interfere with the mechanisms underlying the synergistic effects of CD95 ligand and chemotherapeutic drugs.