Cholangiocarcinoma continues to have a dismal prognosis with an overall survival rate of less than 10%. An increased understanding of the molecular oncogenesis of this tumor is needed. Fas/APO-1 (CD95) receptor and Fas ligand have been implicated as key factors in apoptosis. In this study we have examined the role of the Fas receptor in the growth of cholangiocarcinoma. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the role of the Fas receptor in the induction of apoptosis in cholangiocarcinoma and to assess the role of the Fas receptor in cholangiocarcinoma tumorigenesis. Human cholangiocarcinoma cells, SK-ChA-1, were evaluated for Fas receptor expression using fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). Distinct cell populations (Fas-positive and Fas-negative) were isolated by FACS and cloned from single cell dilutions. Fas expression was assessed by FACS and reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Cell populations were further characterized by their sensitivity to anti-Fas monoclonal antibody at 72 hours. Cell viability and apoptotic index were evaluated by trypan blue cell count and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate nick end-labeling (TUNEL) assay, respectively. Distinct cell populations were evaluated for their ability to form tumors in BALB/c nude mice (2.5 × 106 cells per subcutaneous injection). After 4 weeks, tumors were evaluated for tumor area by caliper measurement and Fas expression by RT-PCR. Maintenance of biliary phenotype was assured by means of AE-1 (cytokeratin) immunohistochemistry. Populations of Fas-positive and Fas-negative cells were identified, isolated, and confirmed by FACS and RT-PCR. Treatment of Fas-positive cells with anti-Fas monoclonal antibody produced an 80% reduction in cell viability compared to no decrease in viability in Fas-negative cells by trypan blue cell count. TUNEL staining showed an apoptotic index of 75% for Fas-positive cells incubated with anti-Fas monoclonal antibody and no significant evidence of apoptosis in the Fas-negative cells. When cholangiocarcinoma cells were subcutaneously injected into nude mice, only Fas-negative cells formed tumor nodules; Fas-positive cells failed to form tumor nodules. The analyzed tumors lacked Fas messenger RNA by RT-PCR but maintained the biliary cytokeratin AE-1 by immunohistochemistry. Fas receptor expression is an important mediator of apoptosis in cultured human cholangiocarcinoma cells and appears to be a critical determinant of cholangiocarcinoma tumor growth in nude mice.