Lysis of target cells by cytolytic T lymphocytes (CTL) is associated with the exocytosis of cytoplasmic granules. Purified granules from CTL cell lines contain a pore-forming protein (perforin), tree serine esterases, granzyme A (60,000 MW), granzyme B (29,000 MW), and granzyme C (27,000 MW). We have compared the kinetics of appearance of cytolytic activity with that of perforin and granzyme A activity during activation of lymphocytes from normal animals with leukoagglutinin (LA) and recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2). Unstimulated lymph node cells do not express any of these activities, which appear between Day 3 and Day 4 of stimulation and increase rapidly to reach a pronounced peak on Day 6. On Day 7 all the activities are considerably lower, even though the cells still proliferate exponentially. There is a good correlation between the kinetics of appearance of all of these activities. Using antisera against perforin and against granzyme C, one can detect positive cytoplasmic granules in a small fraction of cells on Day 3; by Day 5, 80-90% of the cells are stained. This proportion decreases again on Day 7.