Perforin and its role in T lymphocyte-mediated cytolysis

Experientia. 1992 Oct 15;48(10):911-20. doi: 10.1007/BF01919138.


The killing mediated by cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) represents an important mechanism in the immune defence against tumors and virus infections. The lytic mechanism has been proposed to consist of a polarized secretion of granule-stored molecules, occurring on effector-target cell contact. By electron microscopy, membrane deposited, pore-like lesions are detected on the target cell membrane during cytolysis by CTL. These structures resembled strikingly pores formed during complement attack. Granules of CTL isolated by nitrogen cavitation and Percoll gradient centrifugation were shown to retain cytotoxic activity. Further purification of proteins stored in these granules led to the discovery of a membranolytic protein named perforin which was capable of polymerizing into pore-like structures. In addition to this cytolytic protein, a set of serine esterases was found as well as lysosomal enzymes and proteoglycans, whose function are not yet clearly defined. The role of perforin in the cytotoxic process is currently being explored by ablating the active gene in mice.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody-Dependent Cell Cytotoxicity
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic*
  • Exons
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Perforin
  • Pore Forming Cytotoxic Proteins
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*


  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Pore Forming Cytotoxic Proteins
  • Perforin