The pathogenesis and etiology of Hodgkin's disease, a common human malignant lymphoma, is still unresolved. As a unique characteristic, we have identified constitutive activation of the transcription factor nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB p50-RelA in Hodgkin/Reed-Sternberg (H/RS) cells, which discriminates these neoplastic cells from most cell types studied to date. In contrast to other lymphoid and nonlymphoid cell lines tested, proliferation of H/RS cells depended on activated NF-kappaB. Furthermore, constitutive NF-kappaB p50-RelA prevented Hodgkin's lymphoma cells from undergoing apoptosis under stress conditions. Consistent with this dual function, Hodgkin's lymphoma cells depleted of constitutive nuclear NF-kappaB revealed strongly impaired tumor growth in severe combined immunodeficient mice. Our findings identify NF-kappaB as an important component for understanding the pathogenesis of Hodgkin's disease and for developing new therapeutic strategies against it.