Characterization of the binding of a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) ligand to its receptor(s) is pivotal to understand how these proteins initiate signal transduction pathways. Unfortunately, kinetic elucidation of these interactions is strongly hampered by the multivalent nature of the binding partners. The interaction between TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand and its death receptors was analyzed using in-depth applications of surface plasmon resonance technology. Variations in receptor density and sensor chip type allowed us to manipulate the stoichiometry of the formed complex, and the rate constants describing the binding of trimeric TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand to only one receptor molecule were determined. Remarkably, the affinity of this trimer-monomer complex is in the picomolar range, and its dissociation very slow. Further analysis showed that the second and third receptor molecules bind with lower affinity to the preformed trimer-monomer complex. This together with results obtained with receptor activator of NF-kappa B ligand and B cell-activating factor strongly suggests that the binding of TNF family ligands to their receptors is initiated via the formation of a trimer-monomer complex that is sufficiently stable to allow binding of two additional receptor molecules. These results suggest that avidity does not play a significant role and thus provide new insight in how TNF ligands form the biologically important complexes with their receptors. Molecular & Cellular Proteomics 10: 10.1074/mcp.M110.002808, 1-10, 2011.