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Crit Rev Immunol. 1995;15(3-4):359-84.

Mechanisms of lysis by cytotoxic T cells.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


When a cytotoxic lymphocyte binds to an antigenic cell, there is a reorientation of the Golgi apparatus and a directed exocytosis of cytoplasmic granules toward the offending cell. In the model originally proposed by Henkart, these granules were hypothesized to contain lytic molecules that contribute to the demise of the target cell. Initially, perforin/cytolysin was believed to be the major player in the mechanism of lysis. Recent work, however, using a variety of biochemical, molecular biological, and genetic approaches, has provided convincing evidence that other granule-associated molecules contribute to the lytic pathway. Of particular note are the granzymes, whose proteolytic activity is intimately associated with the induction of DNA fragmentation and apoptosis. In this review we summarize these recent experiments and present an updated view of the granule-mediated killing mechanism. For some years the universality of the granule-killing mechanism has been challenged. Experiments reported in the last few years on the characteristics of target cell death, detailed studies with cytolytic T cell lines, and, ultimately, with lymphocytes from mice that have been genetically altered using homologous recombination, have proven the existence of a second pathway. We discuss whether the existence of this alternate, Fas antigen/Fas ligand, mechanism really deals a knock-out blow to the granule exocytosis followers. Most likely it represents an important immunoregulatory system rather than a defense against pathogenesis. The granule-mediated and Fas-dependent mechanisms of cytolysis represent, at first sight, completely different pathways. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that once the kiss of death has been received, through either granules or Fas, the events within the target cell are remarkably similar. Considerable attention is now being focussed on a family of interleukin-1 beta-converting enzymes (ICEs) that become activated within the target cell after attack by a cytotoxic lymphocyte. These enzymes are particularly interesting as they have now been shown to be directly involved in developmentally controlled, programmed cell death.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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