Mycoplasma alligatoris causes acute lethal primary infection of susceptible hosts. A genome survey implicated sialidase and hyaluronidase, potential promoters of CD95-mediated eukaryotic cell death, as virulence factors of M. alligatoris. We used immunofluorescence imaging and flow cytometry to examine the effects of M. alligatoris infection in vitro on CD95 expression and apoptosis by alligator cardiac fibroblasts, a major cell type of a target organ of M. alligatoris infection in vivo. A uniform distribution of CD95 in primary cultured cardiac, skeletal muscle, and embryonic fibroblasts was demonstrated by using polyclonal antibodies against the N or C terminus of mouse or human CD95. Anti-CD95 antibodies reacted on Western blots of fibroblast lysates with a band with the predicted apparent molecular weight of CD95, but soluble CD95 was not detected in plasma from control or M. alligatoris-infected alligators. The proportion of CD95-gated cardiac fibroblasts increased threefold (P<0.01) 48 h after inoculation with M. alligatoris. Infection induced morphological changes in cardiac fibroblasts, including translocation of CD95 characteristic of apoptosis and an eightfold increase (P<0.16) in 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation measured in a terminal deoxynucleotide transferase dUTP nick end-labeling apoptosis assay. The proportion of BrdU-gated controls activated with agonistic immunoglobulin M against human CD95 also increased threefold (P<0.03 for muscle). Heat-inactivated M. alligatoris and sterile M. alligatoris-conditioned culture supernatant had no effect. This is the first report of a CD95 homolog in the class Reptilia and establishes a new model that can be used to test the direct bacterial interaction with upstream components of the CD95 signal transduction pathway.