Previous studies have found conflicting associations between susceptibility to activation-induced cell death and the cell cycle in T cells. However, most of the studies used potentially toxic pharmacological agents for cell cycle synchronization. A panel of human melanoma tumor- reactive T cell lines, a CD8+ HER-2/neu-reactive T cell clone, and the leukemic T cell line Jurkat were separated by centrifugal elutriation. Fractions enriched for the G0-G1, S, and G2-M phases of the cell cycle were assayed for T cell receptor-mediated activation as measured by intracellular Ca2+ flux, cytolytic recognition of tumor targets, and induction of Fas ligand mRNA. Susceptibility to apoptosis induced by recombinant Fas ligand and activation-induced cell death were also studied. None of the parameters studied was specific to a certain phase of the cell cycle, leading us to conclude that in nontransformed human T cells, both activation and apoptosis through T cell receptor activation can occur in all phases of the cell cycle.