Fas/APO-1 is a cell surface protein known to trigger apoptosis upon specific antibody engagement. Because wild-type p53 can activate transcription as well as induce apoptosis, we queried whether p53 might upregulate Fas/APO-1. To explore this possibility, we examined human p53-null (H358 non-small-cell lung adenocarcinoma and K562 erythroleukemia) and wild-type p53-containing (H460 non-small-cell lung adenocarcinoma) cell lines. When H358 or H460 cells were transduced with a replication-deficient adenovirus expression construct containing the human wild-type p53 gene but not with vector alone, a marked upregulation (approximately a three-to fourfold increase) of cell surface Fas/APO-1 was observed by flow cytometry. Similarly, K562, cells stably transfected with a plasmid vector containing the temperature-sensitive human p53 mutant Ala-143 demonstrated a four- to sixfold upregulation of Fas/APO-1 by flow-cytometric analysis at the permissive temperature of 32.5 degrees C. Temperature-sensitive upregulation of Fas/APO-1 in K562 Ala-143 cells was verified by immunoprecipitation and demonstrated to result from enhanced mRNA production by nuclear run-on and Northern (RNA) analyses. Stably transfected K562 cells expressing temperature-insensitive, transcriptionally inactive p53 mutants (His-175, Trp-248, His-273, or Gly-281) failed to upregulate Fas/APO-1 at either 32.5 degrees or 37.5 degrees C. The temperature-sensitive transcription of Fas/APO-1 occurred in the presence of cycloheximide, indicating that de novo protein synthesis was not required and suggested a direct involvement of p53. Collectively, these observations argue that Fas/APO-1 is a target gene for transcriptional activation by p53.