CD40 was originally described as a B-cell-restricted antigen and was subsequently found to be a member of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor superfamily. CD40 is also expressed on dendritic cells, thymic epithelium, monocytes, and some carcinoma cell lines, and plays a critical role in cell contact-dependent activation. Primary and cultured Hodgkin and Reed-Sternberg (H-RS) cells, the presumed malignant cells of Hodgkin's disease (HD); were found to express high levels of cell surface CD40. We found that recombinant CD40 ligand (CD40L) induced interleukin-8 (IL-8) secretion and enhanced IL-6, TNF, and lymphotoxin-alpha (LT-alpha/TNF-beta) release from cultured H-RS cells. These cytokines play a significant role in the clinical presentation and pathology of HD, a tumor of cytokine-producing cells. CD40L had no mitogenic activity for HD-derived cell lines. In contrast, CD40L enhanced expression of costimulatory molecules intracellular adhesion molecule-T and B7–1 on cultured H-RS cells, both of which are overexpressed on primary H-RS cells. In addition, CD40L induced a 40% to 60% reduction of the expression of the HD-associated CD30 antigen, another member of the TNF receptor superfamily. Primary and cultured H- RS cells express not only CD30, but also CD40. CD40L has pleiotropic biologic activities on H-RS cells, and the CD40-CD40L interaction might be a critical element in the deregulated cytokine network and cell contact-dependent activation cascade typical for HD.