When activated, membrane-bound receptors for Fas and tumour-necrosis factor initiate programmed cell death by recruiting the death domain of the adaptor protein FADD to the membrane. FADD then activates caspase 8 (also known as FLICE or MACH) through an interaction between the death-effector domains of FADD and caspase 8. This ultimately leads to the apoptotic response. Death-effector domains and homologous protein modules known as caspase-recruitment domains have been found in several proteins and are important regulators of caspase (FLICE) activity and of apoptosis. Here we describe the solution structure of a soluble, biologically active mutant of the FADD death-effector domain. The structure consists of six antiparallel, amphipathic alpha-helices and resembles the overall fold of the death domains of Fas and p75. Despite this structural similarity, mutations that inhibit protein-protein interactions involving the Fas death domain have no effect when introduced into the FADD death-effector domain. Instead, a hydrophobic region of the FADD death-effector domain that is not present in the death domains is vital for binding to FLICE and for apoptotic activity.