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We investigated the expression and function of Fas and Fas ligand (FasL) on peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs). The cells were stimulated with various cytokines or 12-0-tetradecanoyl phorbol 13-acetate (PMA) plus ionomycin. About 30% of unstimulated PBLs expressed Fas, and the expression was augmented by interleukin-1β (IL-1β), IL-2, tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interferon-γ (IFN-γ), or PMA plus ionomycin. Although only minimal FasL expression was detected on unstimulated PBLs, FasL expression was markedly induced by IL-2 or PMA plus ionomycin, suggesting that Fas and FasL were both expressed on IL-2-stimulated or PMA-plus-ionomycin-stimulated PBLs. Although IL-2-stimulated or PMA-plus-ionomycin-stimulated PBLs were positive for both Fas and FasL, no significant increase in apoptosis was demonstrated in these activated PBLs. In addition, treatment of PBLs with IL-2 or PMA plus ionomycin did not change anti-Fas-induced apoptosis, although these activated PBLs expressed Fas strongly when compared with unstimulated PBLs. Only IL-2-stimulated or PMA-plus-ionomycin-stimulated PBLs killed Fas+ target cells efficiently via the interaction of Fas on target cells with FasL of PBLs. Bcl-2 was constitutively expressed on unstimulated PBLs, but its expression was significantly augmented by IL-2 or PMA plus ionomycin. The expression of Bax was clearly induced only on IL-2-stimulated or PMA-plus-ionomycin-stimulated PBLs and that of other Bcl-2 family proteins such as Bcl-x and Bad could not be detected on human PBLs, including IL-2-stimulated or PMA-plus-ionomycin-stimulated PBLs. Our results suggest that PBLs activated by IL-2 or PMA plus ionomycin express both Fas and FasL and that they kill Fas+ target cells by using FasL on the surface. The resistance of these activated PBLs to Fas-mediated apoptosis may be due to the augmented Bcl-2 expression or the presence of Bcl-2:Bax heterodimers on these cells.