Introduction Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare malignancy of the biliary tract, the incidence of which is rising, but the pathogenesis of which remains uncertain. No common genetic defects have been described but it is accepted that chronic inflammation is an important contributing factor. We have shown that primary human cholangiocyte and hepatocyte survival is tightly regulated via co-operative interactions between two tumour necrosis family (TNF) receptor family members; CD40 and Fas (CD95). Functional deficiency of CD154, the ligand for CD40, leads to a failure of clearance of biliary tract infections and a predisposition to cholangiocarcinoma implying a direct link between TNF receptor-mediated apoptosis and the development of cholangiocarcinoma. Aims To determine whether malignant cholangiocytes display defects in CD40 mediated apoptosis. By comparing CD40 and Fas-mediated apoptosis and intracellular signalling in primary human cholangiocytes and three cholangiocyte cell lines. Results Primary cholangiocytes and cholangiocyte cell lines were relatively insensitive to direct Fas-mediated killing with exogenous FasL when compared with Jurkat cells, which readily underwent Fas-mediated apoptosis, but were extremely sensitive to CD154 stimulation. The sensitivity of cells to CD40 activation was similar in magnitude in both primary and malignant cells and was STAT-3 and AP-1 dependent in both. Conclusions 1) Both primary and malignant cholangiocytes are relatively resistant to Fas–mediated killing but show exquisite sensitivity to CD154, suggesting that the CD40 pathway is intact and fully functional in both primary and malignant cholangiocytes 2) The relative insensitivity of cholangiocytes to Fas activation demonstrates the importance of CD40 augmentation of Fas dependent death in these cells. Agonistic therapies which target CD40 and associated intracellular signalling pathways may be effective in promoting apoptosis of malignant cholangiocytes.