Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) and natural killers (NK) cells provide immune surveillance against viruses and neoplasms, and play a central role in the pathogenesis of autoimmune disease, AIDS and graft rejection. Thus, it is important to understand the precise molecular mechanism(s) whereby cytotoxic lymphocytes destroy susceptible target cells. Granule-mediated cytotoxicity requires a combination of both perforin and granzyme B. Perforin polymerizes to form transmembrane channels and presumably allows granzyme B access to target cell substrates, which until recently, were unknown. One clue to the identity of the physiological substrate(s) activated by granzyme B comes from its unusual specificity for cleaving synthetic substrates after aspartate residues. Members of the ICE/CED-3 family of cysteine proteases are prime candidates as they are important apoptotic effectors and are expressed as zymogens, which can be processed to form active heterodimeric enzymes after cleavage at specific aspartate residues. Previous studies have shown that granzyme B proteolytically activates the cell death effector Yama/CPP32/apopain (referred to here as Yama). Here we report that granzyme B also activates ICE-LAP3/Mch3/CMH-1 (referred to here as ICE-LAP3), which, along with Yama and Mch2, forms a subset of the ICE/CED-3 family of cysteine proteases most closely related to the Caenorhabditis elegans cell death gene, CED-3. Importantly, Jurkat T cells incubated with granzyme B and a sublytic concentration of perforin undergo apoptosis, which is preceded by the activation of endogenous ICE-LAP3. Thus, we propose that granzyme B mediates apoptosis by directly engaging the target cell's death effector machinery, which is probably composed of an arsenal of intracellular, CED-3-like cysteine proteases.