TRAIL is a recently described member of the TNF superfamily. The ability of TRAIL to induce apoptosis in a large number of tumors has stimulated interest in TRAIL as a tumor therapeutic agent. Although TRAIL mRNA is expressed in a number of tissues, its functional significance to various organs is unknown. Because tumors rarely develop in the eye, we have examined this organ for functional TRAIL expression. Our analysis revealed that TRAIL mRNA and protein are constitutively expressed on numerous ocular structures, including the cornea and retina. More importantly, ocular tissue displays functional TRAIL as determined by in vitro killing of TRAIL-sensitive tumor cell lines. Previous studies have shown that ocular tissue also expresses functional Fas ligand (FasL). To assess the contribution of TRAIL and FasL for tumor cell killing in the eye, cell lines susceptible to both TRAIL and FasL were examined. The results show that ocular tissue kills via either ligand, suggesting a compensatory mechanism between TRAIL and FasL. Collectively, these results provide physiological evidence for ocular TRAIL expression, and suggest a role for this molecule in tumor surveillance in an immune privileged site.