Perforin and lymphocyte-mediated cytolysis

Immunol Rev. 1995 Aug;146:145-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065x.1995.tb00688.x.


We have discussed in the previous sections the recent progress made toward elucidating the regulatory mechanism of perforin gene transcription and the domain structure of the perforin molecule. It appears that the expression of perforin is, at least partially, controlled at the transcription level through the interaction between killer cell-specific cis- and trans- acting factors. One of such cognate pairs, NF-P motif (an EBS-homologous motif) and NF-P2 (a killer cell-specific DNA-binding protein), has been described. The regulatory mechanism of gene transcription, however, is likely to involve multiple factors which act in a coordinated fashion to bring about the most efficient expression of perforin limited strictly to activated killer lymphocytes. Through studies using synthetic peptides and recombinant perforins, it has been suggested that the N-terminal region of the perforin molecule is an important, though not the only, domain responsible for the lytic activity. Further studies are warranted to elucidate the role(s) of other potential amphiphilic structures located in the central portion of the perforin molecule in the overall pore-forming activity. The molecular basis underlying the resistance of killer lymphocytes to perforin-mediated lysis still remains an open question. Preliminary results, however, suggest that the surface protein(s) restricted to killer cells may account for their self-protection against perforin. Based on recent studies using perforin-deficient mice, the involvement of perforin in lymphocyte-mediated cytolysis both in vivo and in vitro has been confirmed. Two functional roles, a direct (lytic) and an indirect (endocytosis enhancer; conduit), both of which may contribute critically to the cell-killing event can be attributed to perforin. The fact that lymphocytes may also employ perforin-independent killing mechanism(s), e.g. Fas-dependent pathway, is beyond the scope of this review. There is, nevertheless, no doubt that these alternative cytolytic mechanisms may also play important roles in immune effector and/or regulatory responses associated with killer lymphocytes. Obviously, we are still a long way from concluding on the functional relevance of each individual cytolytic mechanism seen in different physiopathological situations. Suffice it to say, however, that a wealth of information on lymphocyte-mediated killing has already emerged through the multidisciplinary efforts conducted in our and other laboratories that promise to further dissect this complicated event in the years to come.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic*
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / immunology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Perforin
  • Pore Forming Cytotoxic Proteins
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*


  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Pore Forming Cytotoxic Proteins
  • Perforin