CD95 (Fas)-induced apoptosis plays a critical role in the elimination of activated lymphocytes and induction of peripheral tolerance. Defects in CD95/CD95L (Fas-Ligand)-apoptotic pathway have been recognized in autoimmune lymphoproliferative diseases (ALPS) and lpr or gld mice and attributed to CD95 and CD95L gene mutations, respectively. Large granular lymphocyte (LGL) leukemia is a chronic disease characterized by a proliferation of antigen-activated cytotoxic T lymphocytes. Autoimmune features such as hypergammaglobulinemia, rheumatoid factor, and circulating immune complexes are common features in LGL leukemia and ALPS. Therefore, we hypothesize that expansion of leukemic LGL may be secondary to a defective CD95 apoptotic pathway. In this study, we investigated expression of CD95 and CD95L in 11 patients with CD3(+) LGL leukemia and explored the apoptotic response to agonistic CD95 monoclonal antibody (MoAb). We found that leukemic LGL from each patient expressed constitutively high levels of CD95/CD95L, similar to those seen in normal activated T cells. However, cells from 9 of these 11 patients were totally resistant to anti-CD95-induced apoptosis. Similarly, cells were resistant to anti-CD3-MoAb-triggered cell death. Lack of anti-CD95-induced apoptosis was not due to mutations in the CD95 antigen. Leukemic LGL were not intrinsically resistant to CD95-dependent death, because LGL from all but 1 patient underwent apoptosis after phytohemagglutinin/interleukin-2 activation. The patient whose leukemic LGL were intrinsically resistant to CD95 had an aggressive form of LGL leukemia that was resistant to combination chemotherapy. These findings that leukemic LGL are resistant to CD95-dependent apoptosis despite expressing high levels of CD95 are similar to observations made in CD95L transgenic mice. These data suggest that LGL leukemia may be a useful model of dysregulated apoptosis causing human malignancy and autoimmune disease.