Mice bearing the experimental murine renal cancer Renca can be successfully treated with some forms of immunotherapy. In the present study, we have investigated the molecular pathways used by NK and T cells to lyse Renca cells. Renca cells normally express low levels of Fas that can be substantially enhanced by either IFN-gamma or TNF-alpha, and the combination of IFN-gamma + TNF-alpha synergistically enhances cell-surface Fas expression. In addition, cells pretreated with IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha are sensitive to lysis mediated by Fas ligand (FasL)-expressing hybridomas (dllS), cross-linking of anti-Fas Abs or soluble Fas (FasL). Lysis via Fas occurs by apoptosis, since Renca shows all the typical characteristics of apoptosis. No changes in levels of bcl-2 were observed after cytokine treatments. We also examined cell-mediated cytotoxic effects using activated NK cells and T cells from gld FasL-deficient mice, and perforin-deficient mice, as well as wild-type C57BL/6 and BALB/c mice. Interestingly, the granule-mediated pathway predominated in killing of Renca by activated NK cells, while the Fas/FasL pathway contributed significantly to cell-mediated killing of Renca by activated T cells. These results suggest that killing of Renca tumor cells by immune effector cells can occur by both granule and Fas-mediated cytotoxicity. However, for the Fas-mediated pathway to function, cell surface levels of Fas need to be increased beyond a critical threshold level by proinflammatory cytokines such as IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha.