Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) preferentially triggers apoptosis in tumor cells versus normal cells, thus providing a therapeutic potential. In this study, we examined a large panel of human malignant glioma cell lines and primary cultures of normal human astrocytes for their sensitivity to TRAIL. Of 13 glioma cell lines, 3 were sensitive (80-100% death), 4 were partially resistant (30-79% death), and 6 were resistant (<30% death). Normal astrocytes were also resistant. TRAIL-induced cell death was characterized by activation of caspase-8 and -3, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage, and DNA fragmentation. Decoy receptor (DcR1 and DcR2) expression was limited in the glioma cell lines and did not correlate with TRAIL sensitivity. Both sensitive and resistant cell lines expressed TRAIL death receptor (DR5), adapter protein Fas-associated death domain (FADD), and caspase-8; but resistant cell lines expressed 2-fold higher levels of the apoptosis inhibitor phosphoprotein enriched in diabetes/phosphoprotein enriched in astrocytes-15 kDa (PED/PEA-15). In contrast, cellular FADD-like IL-1β-converting enzyme-like inhibitory protein (cFLIP) expression was similar in sensitive and resistant cells. Transfection of sense PED/PEA-15 cDNA in sensitive cells resulted in cell resistance, whereas transfection of antisense in resistant cells rendered them sensitive. Inhibition of protein kinase C (PKC) activity restored TRAIL sensitivity in resistant cells, suggesting that PED/PEA-15 function might be dependent on PKC-mediated phosphorylation. In summary, TRAIL induces apoptosis in >50% of glioma cell lines, and this killing occurs through activation of the DR pathway. This caspase-8-induced apoptotic cascade is regulated by intracellular PED/PEA-15, but not by cFLIP or decoy receptors. This pathway may be exploitable for glioma and possibly for other cancer therapies.