Lyssaviruses, which are members of the Rhabdoviridae family, induce apoptosis, which plays an important role in the neuropathogenesis of rabies. However, the mechanisms by which these viruses mediate neuronal apoptosis have not been elucidated. Here we demonstrate that the early induction of apoptosis in a model of lyssavirus-infected neuroblastoma cells involves a TRAIL-dependent pathway requiring the activation of caspase-8 but not of caspase-9 or caspase-10. The activation of caspase-8 results in the activation of caspase-3 and caspase-6, as shown by an increase in the cleavage of the specific caspase substrate in lyssavirus-infected cells. However, neither caspase-1 nor caspase-2 activity was detected during the early phase of infection. Lyssavirus-mediated cell death involves an interaction between TRAIL receptors and TRAIL, as demonstrated by experiments using neutralizing antibodies and soluble decoy TRAIL-R1/R2 receptors. We also demonstrated that the decapsidation and replication of lyssavirus are essential for inducing apoptosis, as supported by UV inactivation, cycloheximide treatment, and the use of bafilomycin A1 to inhibit endosomal acidification. Transfection of cells with the matrix protein induced apoptosis using pathways similar to those described in the context of viral infection. Furthermore, our data suggest that the matrix protein of lyssaviruses plays a major role in the early induction of TRAIL-mediated apoptosis by the release of a soluble, active form of TRAIL. In our model, Fas ligand (CD95L) appears to play a limited role in lyssavirus-mediated neuroblastoma cell death. Similarly, tumor necrosis factor alpha does not appear to play an important role.