Although targeting of the death receptors (DRs) DR4 and DR5 still appears a suitable antitumoral strategy, the limited clinical responses to recombinant soluble TNF-related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL) necessitate novel reagents with improved apoptotic activity/tumor selectivity. Apoptosis induction by a single-chain TRAIL (scTRAIL) molecule could be enhanced \textgreater10-fold by generation of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-specific scFv-scTRAIL fusion proteins. By forcing dimerization of scFv-scTRAIL based on scFv linker modification, we obtained a targeted scTRAIL composed predominantly of dimers (Db-scTRAIL), exceeding the activity of nontargeted scTRAIL approximately 100-fold on Huh-7 hepatocellular and Colo205 colon carcinoma cells. Increased activity of Db-scTRAIL was also demonstrated on target-negative cells, suggesting that, in addition to targeting, oligomerization equivalent to an at least dimeric assembly of standard TRAIL per se enhances apoptosis signaling. In the presence of apoptosis sensitizers, such as the proteasomal inhibitor bortezomib, Db-scTRAIL was effective at picomolar concentrations in vitro (EC(50) approximately 2 x 10(-12) M). Importantly, in vivo, Db-scTRAIL was well tolerated and displayed superior antitumoral activity in mouse xenograft (Colo205) tumor models. Our results show that both targeting and controlled dimerization of scTRAIL fusion proteins provides a strategy to enforce apoptosis induction, together with retained tumor selectivity and good in vivo tolerance.