Granzyme A induces caspase-independent mitochondrial damage, a required first step for apoptosis

Immunity. 2005 Mar;22(3):355-70. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2005.02.004.


Granzyme A (GzmA) triggers cell death with apoptotic features by targeting the endoplasmic reticulum-associated SET complex, which contains the GzmA-activated DNase NM23-H1, its inhibitor SET, and Ape1. The SET complex was postulated to translocate to the nucleus in response to oxidative stress and participate in its repair. Because mitochondrial damage is important in apoptosis, we investigated whether GzmA damages mitochondria. GzmA induces a rapid increase in reactive oxygen species and mitochondrial transmembrane potential loss, but does not cleave bid or cause apoptogenic factor release. The mitochondrial effect is direct, does not require cytosol, and is insensitive to bcl-2 and caspase inhibition. SET complex nuclear translocation, which occurs within minutes of peroxide or GzmA treatment, is dependent on superoxide generation since superoxide scavengers block it. Superoxide scavengers also block apoptosis by CTLs expressing GzmA and/or GzmB. Therefore, mitochondrial damage is an essential first step in killer cell granule-mediated pathways of apoptosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Caspases / immunology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytotoxicity Tests, Immunologic
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic
  • Granzymes
  • Humans
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / pathology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / immunology
  • Serine Endopeptidases / immunology
  • Serine Endopeptidases / pharmacology*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Granzymes
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • GZMA protein, human
  • Caspases