Molecules relevant for T cell-target cell interaction are present in cytolytic granules of human T lymphocytes

Eur J Immunol. 1989 Aug;19(8):1469-75. doi: 10.1002/eji.1830190819.


An ultrastructural analysis of human cytotoxic T lymphocyte-target cell (CTL-TC) interaction has been undertaken to enable a better understanding of the killing mechanism. Attention was focused on granules in the CTL, which are known to contain lethal compounds. Within the membrane-delimited cytotoxic granule an electron-dense core as well as numerous membrane vesicles were identified. In CTL-TC conjugates, specific membrane interactions take place, allowing the formation of intercellular clefts into which the granule cores and internal vesicles are released. T cell surface membrane molecules known to be involved in CTL-TC interaction (T cell receptor, CD3 and CD8) are present on the membranes of the granule cores and internal vesicles, facing outward. An explanation for this localization of the membrane may be found in the fact that the granule is connected with an endocytotic pathway. Moreover, the lumen of the granule is rich in the enzyme cathepsin D, which indicates an association with a lysosomal compartment. Exocytosed vesicles and cores are seen to adhere to the plasma membrane of the TC. Although the exact contents of the granule vesicles and core remain to be identified, we suggest that specific interaction of CTL membrane molecules on the cytolytic granule components with molecules on the plasma membrane of the TC may ensure the unidirectional delivery of the lethal hit.

MeSH terms

  • Clone Cells
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / physiology*
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / ultrastructure
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic*
  • Endocytosis
  • Exocytosis
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular*
  • Intracellular Membranes / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*