Homozygous targeted disruption of the mouse Caspase 8 (Casp8) gene was found to be lethal in utero. The Caspase 8 null embryos exhibited impaired heart muscle development and congested accumulation of erythrocytes. Recovery of hematopoietic colony-forming cells from the embryos was very low. In fibroblast strains derived from these embryos, the TNF receptors, Fas/Apo1, and DR3 were able to activate the Jun N-terminal kinase and to trigger IκBα phosphorylation and degradation. They failed, however, to induce cell death, while doing so effectively in wild-type fibroblasts. These findings indicate that Caspase 8 plays a necessary and nonredundant role in death induction by several receptors of the TNF/NGF family and serves a vital role in embryonal development.