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J Invest Dermatol. 2006 Jan;126(1):32-41.

Cytotoxic T cells.

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Tumor Immunology Group, Institute of Cancer Biology, Danish Cancer Society, Copenhagen, Denmark.


The immune system is a complex arrangement of cells and molecules that preserve the integrity of the organism by elimination of all elements judged dangerous. Within the immune system, a humoral and a cellular as well as an innate and an adaptive arm can be differentiated. The key players of adaptive cellular immune responses are T lymphocytes in general and, for the effector function, cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) in particular. T lymphocytes arise in the bone marrow and migrate to the thymus for maturation. During this process, T cells somatically rearrange gene segments, eventually leading to the expression of a unique antigen-binding molecule, the T-cell receptor (TCR). This receptor allows them to monitor all cells of the body, ready to destroy any cell posing a threat to the organism. Cytotoxicity is exerted directly through the Fas or perforin pathway and/or indirectly by the release of cytokines. Obviously, the activity of such a potent cell is tightly regulated. Indeed, a predominance of stimulatory over inhibitory signals is required for effective immune responses to pathogens, and a predominance of inhibitory over stimulatory signals is required for maintenance of self-tolerance. Still, several situations occur in which an inappropriate CTL response leads to either autoimmune disease or persistence of pathogens.

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