Molecular mechanisms of lymphocyte-mediated cytotoxicity and their role in immunological protection and pathogenesis in vivo

Annu Rev Immunol. 1996;14:207-32. doi: 10.1146/annurev.immunol.14.1.207.


Studies with perforin-deficient mice have demonstrated that two independent mechanisms account for T cell-mediated cytotoxicity: A main pathway is mediated by the secretion of the pore-forming protein perforin by the cytotoxic T cell, whereas an alternative nonsecretory pathway relies on the interaction of the Fas ligand that is upregulated during T cell activation with the apoptosis-inducing Fas molecule on the target cell. NK cells use the former pathway exclusively. The protective role of the perforin-dependent pathway has been shown for infection with the noncytopathic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, for infection with Listeria monocytogenes, and for the elimination of tumor cells by T cells and NK cells. In contrast, perforin-dependent cytotoxicity is not involved in protection against the cytopathic vaccinia virus and vesicular stomatitis virus. LCMV-induced immunopathology and autoimmune diabetes have been found to require perforin-expression. A contribution of perforin-dependent cytotoxicity to the rejection of MHC class I-disparate heart grafts has also been observed. Its absence is efficiently compensated in rejection of fully allogeneic organ or skin grafts. So far, evidence for a role of Fas-dependent cytotoxicity as a T cell effector mechanism in vivo is lacking. Current data suggest that the main function of Fas may be in regulation of the immune response and apparently less at the level of an effector mechanism in host defense. Further analysis is necessary, however, to settle this point finally.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Infections / etiology*
  • Bacterial Infections / prevention & control*
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic*
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Virus Diseases / etiology*
  • Virus Diseases / prevention & control*