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Blood. 2004 Nov 1;104(9):2840-8. Epub 2004 Jul 6.

Differential expression of granzymes A and B in human cytotoxic lymphocyte subsets and T regulatory cells.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology/Oncology, St Louis Children's Hospital, St Louis, MO, USA.


Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) and natural killer (NK) cells use the perforin/granzyme pathway as a major mechanism to kill pathogen-containing cells and tumor cells.(1,2) Dysregulation of this pathway results in several human diseases, such as hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. Here we characterize the single-cell expression pattern of granzymes A and B in human lymphocytes using a flow cytometry-based assay. We demonstrate that most circulating CD56(+)8(-) NK cells, and approximately half of circulating CD8(+) T lymphocytes, coexpressed both granzymes A and B. In contrast, few circulating CD4(+) T lymphocytes expressed granzymes A or B. Activation of CD8(+) T lymphocytes with concanavalin A (ConA)/interleukin-2 (IL-2), and activation of CD4(+) T lymphocytes with antibodies to CD3/CD28 or CD3/CD46 (to generate T regulatory [Tr1] cells), induced substantial expression of granzyme B, but not granzyme A. Naive CD4(+)CD45RA(+) cells stimulated with antibodies to CD3/CD46 strongly expressed granzyme B, while CD3/CD28 stimulation was ineffective. Finally, we show that granzyme B-expressing CD4(+) Tr1 cells are capable of killing target cells in a perforin-dependent, but major histocompatibility complex (MHC)/T-cell receptor (TCR)-independent, manner. Our results demonstrate discordant expression of granzymes A and B in human lymphocyte subsets and T regulatory cells, which suggests that different granzymes may play unique roles in immune system responses and regulation.

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