Abstract Fas antigen, a cell surface molecule, directly mediates apoptosis, and is expressed on a limited number of human tissues. Blood or bone marrow samples from patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and mixed leukemia were examined qualitatively and quantitatively for the expression of Fas as well as its function using flow cytometry and the annexin V staining method. Fas expression was flow cytometrically unimodal with heterogeneous density, and showed quantitatively characteristic features in different diseases: undetectable in mixed leukemia, faint to weak in ALL, low in M0 and M1, and variable (low to strong) in M2, M3, M4, and M5. Both the full-length and the alternatively spliced truncated mRNAs were detected constitutively even in acute leukemia cells with qualitatively negative and quantitatively faint Fas, and the band density of the former transcripts detected by RT-PCR was correlated with the level of expression of the Fas protein. Short-term culturing of freshly isolated leukemia cells gave rise to an increase of Fas density. In acute leukemia cells, the apoptosis induced by anti-Fas MoAb was compared with that induced by etoposide (a topoisomerase II inhibitor). We found that fresh ALL and AML cells were resistant to the anti-Fas IgM antibody, while etoposide could trigger apoptosis in all types of leukemia tested. The combined effects of the anti-Fas MoAb and etoposide were not always synergistic. These results suggest that Fas is a biological marker for characterizing ALL and AML cells, and provide insight into creating a new therapeutic modality using cytotoxic drugs and cytokines together with modulation of Fas.