Cytotoxic CD8+ lymphocytes (CTLs) kill virally infected target cells by releasing cytotoxic granules. The primary objective of this study was to determine whether the activity of granzyme A, a serine protease in the killing granules of CTLs is altered in HIV-infected hemophiliacs. A sensitive colorimetric assay that measures cleavage of a synthetic substrate, N alpha-benzyloxycarbonyl-L-lysine thiobenzyl ester (BLT), was used to quantitate granzyme A activity. Granzyme A activities from hemophiliacs were normalized to to granzyme A activities of healthy donors run concurrently. Granzyme A activity in CD8+ T cells from HIV-seropositive hemophiliacs was significantly lower than granzyme A activity in cells from HIV-seronegative hemophiliacs (0.48 units +/- 0.086/CD8+ T cell and 1.573 +/- 0.434 units/CD8+ T cell, respectively; p < 0.005). These results indicate that cytotoxic cells in HIV-infected hemophiliacs have reduced granzyme A activity, which may result in a defect in CTL-mediated cell killing in these patients.