We have generated H-2b mice with a homozygous null mutation in the granzyme (gzm) B gene. Gzm B is a neutral serine protease with Aspase activity that is found only in the granules of activated cytolytic T cells, natural killer cells, and lymphokine-activated killer cells. Gzm B-/- mice develop normally and have normal hematopoiesis and lymphopoiesis. In vitro, cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) derived from gzm B-/- animals are able to induce 51Cr release from allotarget cells, but with reduced efficiency. However, gzm B-/- CTL have a profound defect in their ability to induce rapid DNA fragmentation and apoptosis in allogeneic target cells. This defect is kinetic since DNA fragmentation is partially compensated and 51Cr release is completely rescued with long incubation times. We conclude that gzm B serves a critical and nonredundant role for the rapid induction of target cell DNA fragmentation and apoptosis by alloreactive cytotoxic T lymphocytes.