Selective cell death plays a critical role in the development of the immune repertoire and in the elimination of target cells expressing foreign Ags. The apoptosis induced by ligation of the Fas Ag, a member of the TNFR/nerve growth factor receptor superfamily, contributes to both of these modes of cell loss. However, in spite of the molecular cloning of the Fas Ag and the identification of a specific cytoplasmic domain required for its function, it remains unclear as to which Fas-induced second messengers mediate the development of programmed cell death. We, therefore, evaluated Fas-initiated signal transduction in susceptible cell types. We determined that Fas ligation induces the rapid tyrosine phosphorylation of multiple cellular proteins. These phosphorylation events occur within 1 min and decline toward baseline by 30 min. In addition, Fas ligation increases the in vitro protein kinase activity of the tyrosine phosphorylated proteins. Pharmacologic inhibitors of protein tyrosine kinases block, in a concentration-dependent manner, Fas-induced DNA fragmentation and prolong cell survival. These results suggest that protein tyrosine kinase activation is an early and obligatory signal in Fas-induced apoptosis.