Most human malignant glioma cell lines are susceptible to CD95 ligand (CD95L)-induced apoptosis. Here, we report that glioma cells are also susceptible to the cytotoxic effects of exogenous C2-ceramide. This form of cell death exhibits some morphological features of apoptosis as assessed by electron microscopy, but is unaffected by the broad spectrum caspase inhibitor, zVAD-fmk. Further, CD95L-induced apoptosis is synergistically enhanced by coexposure of the glioma cells to CD95L and C2-ceramide. CD95L-induced caspase 3-like activity, cytochrome c release and cleavage of caspases 3, 8, 9 and poly(ADP-ribose)polymerase (PARP) increase substantially after cotreatment with CD95L and C2-ceramide compared with CD95L treatment alone. None of these events occur in response to cytotoxic concentrations of C2-ceramide alone. C2-ceramide does not alter CD95 expression. Gene transfer-mediated enhancement of CD95 expression results not only in increased susceptibility to CD95L, but also in increased sensitivity to C2-ceramide. We conclude that (i) synergistic induction of apoptosis by C2-ceramide and CD95L depend on a cross-talk between the two signal transduction pathways and that (ii) C2-ceramide, independently of its sensitizing effects on CD95-dependent caspase activation, is also capable of triggering an apoptotic signaling cascade that is unaffected by zVAD-fmk-mediated caspase inhibition, but promoted by high levels of CD95 expression.