T-cell cytotoxicity is primarily mediated by two cell surface proteins, Fas ligand (FasL) and tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL), and intracellular perforin and granzyme granules. FasL-deficient and perforin-deficient T lymphocytes maintain cytotoxicity but fail to induce graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) when transplanted into mice. suggesting that GVHD and graft-versus-tumour (GVT) effects can be dissociated, and that TRAIL is not involved in the pathogenesis of GVHD. Because TRAIL could mediate a favourable GVT effect it became important to study the spectrum of its activity and to investigate factors that can dissociate its expression from FasL. TRAIL induced apoptosis in 11/41 (27%) tumour specimens of haematological origin compared to 16/41 (39%) induced by FasL. Although eight specimens were sensitive to both FasL and TRAIL, no synergism was observed between these two ligands. TRAIL induced apoptosis in a dose and time dependent manner with an ED50 of 0.5 microg/ml and EDmax of 1 microg/ml. TRAIL activity was not reduced by the over-expression of the multidrug resistant (MDR) protein, and was not enhanced by 9-cis retinoic acid (RA), which can down-regulate bcl-2 protein. Both ligands were simultaneously up-regulated in normal peripheral blood lymphocytes in response to IL-2, IL-15 and anti-CD3 antibody, whereas IL-10 had no effect. Together, our data show that (1) TRAIL can mediate cell death in a variety of human haematological malignancies, (2) resistance to TRAIL is not mediated by MDR protein, (3) the lack of synergy between TRAIL and FasL suggests that either one is sufficient to mediate T-cell cytotoxicity, and (4) within the panel of cytokines tested, the expression of TRAIL and FasL could not be dissociated.