Publications & Reports

Hypothesis: cytotoxic lymphocyte granule serine proteases activate target cell endonucleases to trigger apoptosis.

Smyth MJ, Browne KA, Thia KY, Apostolidis VA, Kershaw MH, Trapani JA
Cellular Cytotoxicity Laboratory, Austin Research Institute, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia.


Upon interaction with target cells, cytotoxic T lymphocytes and natural killer cells vectorially secrete highly specialized cytoplasmic granules containing perforin and a family of serine proteases (granzymes). This granule exocytosis mechanism of cytolysis is of patho-physiological importance, and usually results in target cell DNA fragmentation. Neither perforin nor granzymes possess inherent nuclease activity, but in combination they can induce target cell apoptosis. Perforin forms transmembrane pores in the target cell, thereby enabling granzymes to access target cell substrates. The target cell substrates of granzymes are unknown, but granzyme A binding and cleavage of the nuclear shuttle protein nucleolin in target cells demonstrates that granzymes may act on nuclear substrates. Furthermore, the presence of granzyme B and other granzyme activities in the nucleus of cytotoxic lymphocytes indicates that granzymes can be transported from the cytoplasm to the nucleus. It is hypothesized that perforin enables effector granzymes to enter the target cell cytoplasm and following their transport into the nucleus, granzymes cleave specific target cell nuclear proteins to activate autolytic endonucleases that fragment DNA. In cytotoxic effectors, these nuclear substrates are normally protected from granzymes by endogenous inhibitors.


  • Journal: Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology & Physiology
  • Published: 01/01/1994
  • Volume: 21
  • Issue: 1
  • Pagination: 67-70