Gangliosides participate in development and tissue differentiation. Cross-linking of the apoptosis-inducing CD95 protein (also called Fas or APO- 1) in lymphoid and myeloid tumor cells triggered GD3 ganglioside synthesis and transient accumulation. CD95-induced GD3 accumulation depended on integral receptor 'death domains' and on activation of a family of cysteine proteases called caspases. Cell-permeating ceramides, which are potent inducers of apoptosis, also triggered GD3 synthesis. GD3 disrupted mitochondrial transmembrane potential (ÎÎ¨(m)), and induced apoptosis, in a caspase-independent fashion. Transient overexpression of the GD3 synthase gene directly triggered apoptosis. Pharmacological inhibition of GD3 synthesis and exposure to GD3 synthase antisense oligodeoxynucleotides prevented CD95-induced apoptosis. Thus, GD3 ganglioside mediates the propagation of CD95-generated apoptotic signals in hematopoietic cells.