Several members of the tumour necrosis factor receptor (TNF-R) superfamily can induce cell death. For TNF-R1, Fas/APO-1, DR3, DR6, TRAIL-R1 and TRAIL-R2, a conserved 'death domain' in the intracellular region couples these receptors to activation of caspases. However, it is not yet known how TNF receptor family members lacking a death domain, such as TNF-R2, CD40, LT-βR, CD27 or CD30, execute their death-inducing capability. Here we demonstrate in different cellular systems that cytotoxic effects induced by TNF-R2, CD40 and CD30 are mediated by endogenous production of TNF and autotropic or paratropic activation of TNF-R1. In addition, stimulation of TNF-R2 and CD40 synergistically enhances TNF-R1-induced cytotoxicity. These findings describe a novel pro-apoptotic mechanism induced by some members of the TNF-R family.