Proapoptotic factor Fas ligand (FASL) and its cell surface receptor FAS are tumor necrosis factor superfamily members that trigger apoptosis in different cell types. However, their influence on luteal steroidogenesis is not clearly understood. The aim of the present work was to determine (i) the presence of the cytokine FASL and its receptor FAS in the mare's corpus luteum (CL) throughout the luteal phase, as well as (ii) the influence of FASL alone, or together with the cytokines tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF) and interferon gamma (IFNG), on equine luteal cell production of luteotrophic and luteolytic factors, cell viability, and apoptosis. FASL and FAS protein expression and mRNA transcription were evaluated in different luteal stages of the equine CL by Western blotting and real-time PCR assays, respectively. Protein expression and FASL mRNA transcription increased in the late CL. Also, FAS and FASL proteins were present in large steroidogenic and endothelial CL cells throughout the luteal phase, as demonstrated by immunohistochemistry. Equine luteal cells isolated from midluteal phase CL were stimulated without (control) or with exogenous cytokines: FASL (10 ng/ml); TNF+IFNG (10 ng/ml each; positive control) or FASL+TNF+IFNG (10 ng/ml each). FASL clearly inhibited in vitro progesterone and prostaglandin E(2) (PGE(2)) production by equine luteal cells but increased prostaglandin F(2alpha) (PGF(2alpha)). Furthermore, FASL effect on equine luteal cell viability depended on the presence of cytokines TNF and IFNG. In conclusion, this study shows the presence of FASL and FAS in the equine CL and suggests their importance in functional luteolysis.