This study addresses the effects of cell density and serum on CD95 (APO-1/Fas) and CD95L (Fas Ligand) expression and on the induction of CD95-dependent apoptosis in human articular chondrocytes from normal knees. Subsets of articular chondrocytes in first passage monolayer culture expressed CD95 and CD95L on the cell surface. The expression of both molecules was influenced by cell density: 22.3% of chondrocytes plated at subconfluent density expressed CD95L while expression in confluent cultures was reduced to 8.2%. CD95 expression was 32.1% under subconfluent and 12.2% under confluent conditions. Induction of specific apoptosis by agonistic antibody to CD95 was 15 times higher in confluent cultures than in subconfluent cultures despite higher levels of CD95 and CD95L expression in subconfluent cells, suggesting that protective antiapoptotic mechanisms were activated in low-density cultures. In subconfluent cultures, serum withdrawal had no effect on the sensitivity of the cells toward CD95 antibody-induced apoptosis. However, in confluent cultures, serum withdrawal led to a significant reduction of CD95-dependent apoptosis. Together, these findings demonstrate that cell density is an important modulator of CD95/CD95L expression and susceptibility to CD95-mediated apoptosis in cultured human chondrocytes.