The secretory synapse: the secrets of a serial killer

Immunol Rev. 2002 Nov;189:152-60. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-065x.2002.18913.x.


Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) destroy their targets by a process involving secretion of specialized granules. The interactions between CTLs and target can be very brief; nevertheless, adhesion and signaling proteins segregate into an immunological synapse. Secretion occurs in a specialized secretory domain. Use of live and fixed cell microscopy allows this secretory synapse to be visualized both temporally and spatially. The combined use of confocal and electron microscopy has produced some surprising findings, which suggest that the secretory synapse may be important both in delivering the lethal hit and in facilitating membrane transfer from target to CTL. Studies on the secretory synapse in wild-type and mutant CTLs have been used to identify proteins involved in secretion. Further clues as to the signals required for secretion are emerging from comparisons of inhibitory and activating synapses formed by natural killer cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Junctions / immunology*
  • Intercellular Junctions / ultrastructure
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Models, Immunological
  • Mutation
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / ultrastructure