The majority of human malignant glioma cells express Fas/APO-1 and are susceptible to Fas/APO-1 antibody-mediated apoptosis in vitro. The sensitivity of Fas/APO-1-positive glioma cell lines to Fas/APO-1 antibody-mediated killing correlates inversely with the constitutive expression of the antiapoptotic protooncogene bcl-2. Here we report that BCL-2 protein expression of human glial tumors in vivo correlates with malignant transformation in that BCL-2 immunoreactive glioma cells were more abundant in WHO grade III/IV gliomas than in grade I/II gliomas. Fas/APO-1 antibody-sensitive human glioma cell lines stably transfected with a murine bcl-2 cDNA acquired resistance to Fas/APO-1 antibody-mediated apoptosis. Forced expression of bcl-2 also attenuated TNF alpha-mediated cytotoxicity of glioma cell lines in the presence of actinomycin D and cycloheximide and conferred partial protection from irradiation and the cancer chemotherapy drugs, cisplatin and BCNU. Preexposure of the glioma cell lines to the cytokines, IFN gamma and TNF alpha, which sensitize for Fas/APO-1-dependent killing, partially overcame bcl-2-mediated rescue from apoptosis, suggesting that multimodality immunotherapy involving cytokines and Fas/APO-1 targeting might eventually provide a promising approach to the treatment of human malignant gliomas.