We have investigated perforin and granzyme B expression in graft-infiltrating lymphocytes of patients who underwent heart transplantation. Those proteins are commonly present in the cytoplasmic granules of cytotoxic T lymphocytes and are released upon effector-target cell interaction. From 28 patients 103 endomyocardial biopsies were obtained and examined by histology and immunocytochemical analysis using relevant monoclonal antibodies. We found that "high" biopsy histological grades were associated with perforin and granzyme B expression in graft-infiltrating lymphocytes of patients with acute severe rejection crisis. In contrast, these markers were not detected in patients without rejection or during graft stabilization. Interestingly, in patients with mild rejection and "low" histological grades, two groups could be distinguished with a differential expression of the two intracytoplasmic proteins. The presence of perforin and granzyme B-expressing cells was found to be predictive of rapid progression to severe rejection, so that this situation required additional treatment; in contrast, their absence seemed to correlate with a good graft outcome without additional treatment. Moreover, perforin and granzyme B expression seemed to be down-regulated by immunosuppressive drugs, which coincided with graft stabilization. In conclusion, our data suggest that detection of granzyme B and perforin in graft-infiltrating lymphocytes might be helpful for routinely monitoring heart transplant patients.