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Immunology. 1979 Feb;36(2):179-90.

Microcinematographic and electron microscopic analysis of target cell lysis induced by cytotoxic T lymphocytes.


A study was carried out to determine the sequence of events of T-cell mediated target cell lysis in microcinematography and electron microscopy. Highly efficient cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) were generated in vivo and in vitro using preimmunized spleen cells and purification procedures. Such CTL were highly specific. This specificity correlated well with the number of adhesions formed between CTL and targets and this criterion was used to study killer-target cell interaction. Microcinematography showed that target cell lysis at the single cell level, despite time variations, could be clearly separated into three phases: (a) a recognition phase, visible by random crawling of CTL over the target cell surface until firm contact was established; (b) a post-recognition phase, during which firm contact between CTL and target was maintained without gross modification of either cell; (c) a phase of target cell disintegration, mainly characterized by vigorous blebbing of the cell membrane resulting in a motionless carcass of the target cell but not in its total dissolution. Only later this carcass decayed and formed a necrotic ghost. Electron microscopic observations were put into sequence according to microcinematography. Post-recognition phase was characterized by a tight apposition of the membranes of CTL and target cell. No gap junctions could be observed. During target cell disintegration, profound cytoplasmic and nuclear changes occurred simultaneous with surface blebbing. Most noticeable were extensive internal vacuolization, mitochondrial swelling, nuclear pycnosis and dissolution of the nucleolus. These observations suggested that target cell lysis does not start with a surface phenomenon similar to complement lysis, but a process involving practically the whole cell simultaneously. It is conceivable, therefore, that the signal from the CTL is transmitted across the target cell, and that the switch to sudden cell death is manipulated deep inside the cell.

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