The biology of cytotoxic cell granule exocytosis pathway: granzymes have evolved to induce cell death and inflammation

Microbes Infect. 2009 Apr;11(4):452-9. doi: 10.1016/j.micinf.2009.02.004. Epub 2009 Feb 26.


The granule exocytosis pathway of cytotoxic lymphocytes (Tc and NK cells) is critical for control of tumor development and viral infections. Granule-associated perforin and granzymes are key components in Tc cell-mediated function(s). On the basis of studies that showed granzymes A, B, C, K and M, to induce apoptosis in vitro, all granzymes were thought to also induce cell death in vivo. This review summarizes our present understanding of the biological processes elicited by purified granzyme A and granzyme as well as the processes induced by the more physiologically relevant cytotoxic cells secreting these proteases. The combined evidence supports the concept that the granule secretion pathway is not mono-specific but rather poly-functional including induction of pro-inflammatory cytokines, besides their widely appreciated apoptotic properties.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Death*
  • Exocytosis / physiology*
  • Granzymes / toxicity*
  • Inflammation*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*


  • Granzymes