TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) receptor agonistic agents and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are interesting agents for the chemoprevention and treatment of colorectal cancer. We investigated whether NSAIDs sensitize colon cancer and adenoma cell lines and ex vivo cultured human adenomas to recombinant human (rh) TRAIL. Involvement of the crucial Wnt signalling pathway in the sensitization of colon cancer cells was examined. Five colon cancer and two adenoma cell lines, human ex vivo adenomas and normal colonic epithelium were treated with aspirin or sulindac combined with rhTRAIL. Apoptosis levels, expression of intracellular proteins and TRAIL receptor membrane expression were assessed. Ls174T cells stably transfected with an inducible dominant negative TCF-4 (dnTCF-4) construct served to analyse the role of Wnt pathway activation. Both rhTRAIL-sensitive and -resistant colon cancer cell lines were strongly sensitized to rhTRAIL by aspirin (maximum enhancement ratio, 7.1). Remarkably, in adenoma cell lines sulindac enhanced rhTRAIL-induced apoptosis most effectively (maximum enhancement ratio, 2.5). Although membrane TRAIL receptor expression was not affected by NSAIDs, caspase-8 activation was enhanced by combinational treatment. Several proteins from different biological pathways were affected by NSAIDs, indicating complex mechanisms of sensitization. Elimination of TCF-4 completely blocked the sensitizing effect in colon cancer cells. In ex vivo adenomas the combination of sulindac and rhTRAIL increased apoptosis from 18.4% (sulindac) and 17.8% (rhTRAIL) to 28.0% (p = 0.003 and p = 0.005, respectively). It was concluded that NSAID-induced sensitization to rhTRAIL requires TCF-4 activity. Thus, the combination of TRAIL-receptor agonistic agents and NSAIDs is a potentially attractive treatment option for (pre) malignant tumours with constitutively active Wnt signalling, such as colorectal tumours. Copyright (C) 2010 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.