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Oncoimmunology. 2012 Nov 1;1(8):1368-1375.

Why do human B cells secrete granzyme B? Insights into a novel B-cell differentiation pathway.

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Cancer Immunology Program; Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre; Melbourne, Australia.


B cells are generally believed to operate as producers of high affinity antibodies to defend the body against microorganisms, whereas cellular cytotoxicity is considered as an exclusive prerogative of natural killer (NK) cells and cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). In conflict with this dogma, recent studies have demonstrated that the combination of interleukin-21 (IL-21) and B-cell receptor (BCR) stimulation enables B cells to produce and secrete the active form of the cytotoxic serine protease granzyme B (GrB). Although the production of GrB by B cells is not accompanied by that of perforin as in the case of many other GrB-secreting cells, recent findings suggest GrB secretion by B cells may play a significant role in early antiviral immune responses, in the regulation of autoimmune responses, and in cancer immunosurveillance. Here, we discuss in detail how GrB-secreting B cells may influence a variety of immune processes. A better understanding of the role that GrB-secreting B cells are playing in the immune system may allow for the development and improvement of novel immunotherapeutic approaches against infectious, autoimmune and malignant diseases.

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