TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) is a member of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) ligand family that exerts its apoptotic activity in human cells by binding to two transmembrane receptors, TRAILR1 and TRAILR2. In cells co-expressing both receptors the particular contribution of either protein to the overall cellular response is not well defined. Here we have investigated whether differences in the signaling capacities of TRAILR1 and TRAILR2 can be attributed to certain functional molecular subdomains. We generated and characterized various chimeric receptors comprising TRAIL receptor domains fused with parts from other members of the TNF death receptor family. This allowed us to compare the contribution of particular domains of the two TRAIL receptors to the overall apoptotic response and to identify elements that regulate apoptotic signaling. Our results show that the TRAIL receptor death domains are weak apoptosis inducers compared to those of CD95/Fas, because TRAILR-derived constructs containing the CD95/Fas death domain possessed strongly enhanced apoptotic capabilities. Importantly, major differences in the signaling strengths of the two TRAIL receptors were linked to their transmembrane domains in combination with the adjacent extracellular stalk regions. This was evident from receptor chimeras comprising the extracellular part of TNFR1 and the intracellular signaling part of CD95/Fas. Both receptor chimeras showed comparable ligand binding affinities and internalization kinetics. However, the respective TRAILR2-derived molecule more efficiently induced apoptosis. It also activated caspase-8 and caspase-3 more strongly and more quickly, albeit being expressed at lower levels. These results suggest that the transmembrane domains together with their adjacent stalk regions can play a major role in control of death receptor activation thereby contributing to cell type specific differences in TRAILR1 and TRAILR2 signaling.