The widely expressed protein Fas is a member of the tumour necrosis factor receptor family which can trigger apoptosis. However, Fas surface expression does not necessarily render cells susceptible to Fas ligand-induced death signals, indicating that inhibitors of the apoptosis-signalling pathway must exist. Here we report the characterization of an inhibitor of apoptosis, designated FLIP (for FLICE-inhibitory protein), which is predominantly expressed in muscle and lymphoid tissues. The short form, FLIPs, contains two death effector domains and is structurally related to the viral FLIP inhibitors of apoptosis, whereas the long form, FLIP(L), contains in addition a caspase-like domain in which the active-centre cysteine residue is substituted by a tyrosine residue. FLIPs and FLIP(L) interact with the adaptor protein FADD and the protease FLICE, and potently inhibit apoptosis induced by all known human death receptors. FLIP(L) is expressed during the early stage of T-cell activation, but disappears when T cells become susceptible to Fas ligand-mediated apoptosis. High levels of FLIP(L) protein are also detectable in melanoma cell lines and malignant melanoma tumours. Thus FLIP may be implicated in tissue homeostasis as an important regulator of apoptosis.