FasL, which is expressed mainly on activated lymphocytes, can induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) of cells which express Fas. Fas/FasL interaction is primarily beneficial in maintaining immunological and physiological homeostasis by eliminating unnecessary cells. Dysregulation of the interaction, however, leads to tissue damage. We investigated how Fas/FasL levels changed after major surgery. The major aim of this study was to elucidate the involvement of the Fas/FasL system in postoperative inflammation. The investigation involved 10 patients admitted to the intensive care unit after surgery. Although the percentage of Fas+ cells and the amount of Fas expression tended to increase, there was no significant difference between pre- and post-operative samples. In contrast, the levels of FasL mRNA were dramatically up-regulated after operation. Post-operative C-reactive protein (CRP) levels increased and correlated well with FasL levels (r=0·91, P < 0·01). Lymphocyte counts decreased after operation and were inversely proportional to FasL levels (r=0·58, P < 0·05). These results suggest that the enhanced FasL expression is likely to be related to systemic inflammatory responses induced during the perioperative period. FasL up-regulation may be involved in the aggravation of tissue damage, including lymphocytopenia, in the early post-operative period.