Fas (APO-1/CD95/TNFRSF6) is a member of the tumor necrosis/nerve growth factor receptor family that signals apoptotic cell death in sensitive cells. Expression of Fas and its agonistic ligand (FasL/TNFSF6) was investigated in ex vivo pediatric brain tumor specimens of various histologic types. Fas expression was identified in all of the 18 tumors analyzed by flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry. FasL expression was identified in most of the 13 tumors analyzed by both Western analysis and immunohistochemistry. Nine of these tumor specimens were treated with either the agonistic anti-Fas antibody (APO-1) in combination with protein A or FasL in short-term cytotoxicity assays. Sensitivity to apoptosis induced by the topoisomerase II inhibitor, etoposide, was also assessed. Despite the presence of Fas, all the specimens analyzed demonstrated a high degree of resistance to Fas-mediated apoptosis. These 9 specimens also showed a high degree of resistance to etoposide. Only 2 of the 9 specimens were susceptible to etoposide-induced cell death, whereas only 3 were sensitive to Fas-mediated apoptosis. One brain tumor was sensitive to both Fas ligation and etoposide treatment. This contrasted with the high degree of susceptibility to both etoposide- and Fas-induced apoptosis observed in the reference Jurkat cell line. The results suggest that Fas expression may be a general feature of tumors of the CNS and that a significant degree of resistance to Fas-mediated apoptosis may exist in ex vivo pediatric brain tumor specimens.