CD40, a member of the tumour necrosis factor family, is expressed in a variety of epithelial cells. Although soluble CD40 agonists are growth-inhibitory, membrane-presented CD40 ligand (CD40L) induces extensive apoptosis in carcinoma cells. This study investigated whether CD40 is expressed in human colorectal carcinoma (CRC) cells and explored the functional consequences of CD40 ligation. CD40 expression in a panel of CRC lines was assessed by flow cytometry and in resected human CRCs by immunohistochemistry. CRC cells were treated in vitro with soluble CD40 agonists or cocultured with fibroblasts expressing membrane-bound CD40 ligand. Apoptosis was determined by flow cytometry using Annexin V/propidium iodide labelling and by a DNA fragmentation assay. Cytokine secretion induced by CD40 ligation was quantified by a multiplex-bead array approach. We show that CD40 is expressed in a proportion of established CRC lines in culture and that receptor expression is functional. Activation of CD40 by membrane-presented CD40L, but not soluble agonists, causes high levels of death in CD40-positive CRC cells and induces secretion of proinflammatory cytokines. In agreement with our in vitro observations, immunohistochemical studies demonstrated that CD40 is highly expressed in a proportion of colorectal cancer specimens. The high level of susceptibility of CRC cells to CD40-killing combined with the ability of CD40 to induce concomitant secretion of proinflammatory cytokines suggest that CD40 ligation may represent a novel mechanism for elimination of CRC cells and render CD40 a promising therapeutic target for the eradication of colorectal tumours.