Rapid leukemic cell kill at initial diagnosis of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) has been shown to be associated with a favorable outcome. The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of high dose methylprednisolone (HDMP) on in vivo blast cell apoptosis in children with ALL. Annexin V-binding and Fas (CD95), Fas ligand (FasL; CD95L), and Bcl-2 expression in PB blasts were determined in newly diagnosed children with ALL before and 4, 24, 96 h after initiation of HDMP treatment (n = 20) or conventional dose steroids (CDS) (n = 10) as the control group. A decrease in absolute blast count (from 40.8 x 0(9) to 21.4 x 10(9) /l) associated with an increase in apoptosis (14.2 to 26.9%) (P < 0.05) was detected 4 h after initiation of HDMP. A significant increase in Fas and FasL expression was detected 96 h after HDMP. There was no significant change in apoptosis, Fas and FasL expression from baseline in the control group treated with CDS. The changes in Bcl-2 expression after treatment was not significant in both groups. The results of this preliminary study have shown that HDMP treatment was effective in inducing immediate (within 4 h) blast cell apoptosis. The contribution of Fas/FasL interaction in the rapid component of cell kill remains to be determined, as the increase in the expression of these molecules was evident later.