We previously demonstrated that hematopoietic cell protein-tyrosine phosphatase is one of the molecules that can transduce Fas-mediated apoptosis signals in lymphoid cells. The present study analyzed the effect of defective Fas signaling on the T cell phenotype and apoptosis function in hematopoietic cell protein-tyrosine phosphatase-deficient motheaten mice. Viable motheaten (me(v)/me(v)) mice exhibited increased T cell proliferation and defective activation-induced apoptosis of Fas+ T cells in the lymph node, which was not ascribed to defective Fas ligand function. Furthermore, the Fas-mediated apoptosis defect in activated T cells from me(v)/me(v) mice was confirmed by their resistance to anti-Fas-induced apoptosis. No protein tyrosine dephosphorylation signal was delivered after anti-Fas cross-linking in the lymph node cells of me(v)/me(v) mice as revealed by 32P(i) labeling of protein phosphatase substrates. The defective activation-induced apoptosis of Fas+ T cells in me(v)/me(v) mice led to lymphadenopathy with an accumulation of CD4-CD8-B220+CD3+ T cells. Pneumonitis in me(v)/me(v) mice was associated with infiltration of cycling T cells detected by bromodeoxyuridine uptake in vivo. Thus, T cells from me(v)/me(v) mice are resistant to Fas- mediated apoptosis which results in lymphoproliferative disease and tissue infiltration.