Apoptosis (programmed cell death) of T lymphocytes has been proposed as a mechanism which plays an important role in the pathogenesis of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease. Activation of Fas (CD95) can either result in costimulation of proliferation and cytokine production or in the induction of apoptosis of T lymphocytes. This raises the possibility that Fas is involved in the observed T cell apoptosis during HIV disease. In this report we show that peripheral blood CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes from HIV-infected individuals undergo apoptosis in vitro in response to antibody stimulation (cross-linking) of Fas at a much higher frequency than from uninfected controls. This anti-Fas-induced T cell apoptosis is markedly higher than spontaneous T cell apoptosis in HIV-infected individuals. Antibodies against other members of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF)/nerve growth factor receptor family such as CD27, CD30, CD40, 4-1BB, p55 TNF receptor, p75 TNF receptor, and TNF receptor-related protein did not result in any increase of T cell apoptosis above that spontaneously observed in HIV+ individuals. Anti-Fas-induced apoptosis was much higher in symptomatic HIV-infected individuals; and the magnitude of anti-Fas-induced CD4+ T cell apoptosis correlated inversely with peripheral blood CD4+ T cell absolute counts. Surface expression of Fas on T cells was also found to be higher in HIV-infected individuals. Resting and activated CD4+ and CD8+ T cells both underwent apoptosis in response to anti-Fas antibody. L-Selectin positive memory CD4+ T cells were especially susceptible to anti-Fas-induced apoptosis. These findings show that CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes in HIV-infected individuals are primed in vivo to undergo apoptosis in response to Fas stimulation, suggesting that Fas signaling may be responsible for the T lymphocyte functional defects and depletion observed in HIV disease.