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Annu Rev Immunol. 2008;26:389-420. doi: 10.1146/annurev.immunol.26.021607.090404.

Death by a thousand cuts: granzyme pathways of programmed cell death.

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Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Department of Radiation Oncology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


The granzymes are cell death-inducing enzymes, stored in the cytotoxic granules of cytotoxic T lymphocytes and natural killer cells, that are released during granule exocytosis when a specific virus-infected or transformed target cell is marked for elimination. Recent work suggests that this homologous family of serine esterases can activate at least three distinct pathways of cell death. This redundancy likely evolved to provide protection against pathogens and tumors with diverse strategies for evading cell death. This review discusses what is known about granzyme-mediated pathways of cell death as well as recent studies that implicate granzymes in immune regulation and extracellular proteolytic functions in inflammation.

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