Bispecific monoclonal antibodies (Bi-mAb) with specificity for a tumor associated antigen and the CD3 or CD28 antigen on T lymphocytes, respectively, induce activation of resting T lymphocytes and target-specific tumor cell lysis. Former studies had confirmed that T cells expressing the CD45RO "memory" antigen at high levels were the most potent effectors of Bi-mAb-mediated cytotoxicity when compared to their "naive" counterparts expressing the CD45RA antigen. Further analysis of the T cell subpopulations revealed that within the memory T cell pool, CD8+ T cells were the effector cell, population with strongest cytolytic activity. The cytolytic activity was correlated with the expression level of perforin and granzymes B mRNA. Ca2+ complexing agents, which abrogate perforin activity, reduced necrosis, while inhibition of granzyme activity in effector or target-cells had a similar effect on apoptosis. These results confirm the crucial role perforin and granzymes play in target-cell lysis and explain why CD8+CD45RO+ T cells activated by combined CD3 and CD28 antigen triggering represent the T cell pool with highest cytolytic potential.