To examine the regulatory mechanism of apoptosis in lymphoid cells, expression of both bcl-2 protein and Fas antigen was investigated in reactive lymph nodes, in resting lymphocytes from peripheral blood (PBLs), and in PBLs stimulated with pokeweed mitogen, interleukin-4 (IL- 4) + anti-IgM antibody, IL-2 + anti-CD3 antibody, phytohemagglutinin + phorbol myristate acetate using immunohistochemistry and flow cytometry. Germinal center cells expressed a large amount of Fas antigen, which is associated with the induction of apoptosis in lymphoid cell lines, in contrast to the lack of bcl-2 protein as an apoptosis inhibitor. On the other hand, mantle zone lymphocytes expressed a high level of bcl-2 protein and less Fas antigen. This inverse expression of bcl-2 protein and Fas antigen was also shown in activated T and B lymphocytes from peripheral blood. These lymphoblasts fell into apoptosis dose-dependently in the presence of anti-Fas monoclonal antibody, but resting lymphocytes that expressed both bcl-2 protein and Fas antigen did not undergo apoptosis. These findings suggest that bcl-2 expression prevents the apoptosis of lymphoid cells induced by the Fas antigen-dependent mechanism and that apoptosis of lymphocytes is exquisitely controlled, at least in part, by regulation of the bcl-2 and Fas genes.