Get access

Granzyme B: a natural born killer


Chris Bleackley, PhD, FRSC
Professor of Biochemistry
Department of Biochemistry
University of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta Canada T6G 2H7
Tel.: +1 780 492 3968
Fax: +1 780 492 0886


Summary:  A main pathway used by cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) and natural killer cells to eliminate pathogenic cells is via exocytosis of granule components in the direction of the target cell, delivering a lethal hit of cytolytic molecules. Amongst these, granzyme B and perforin have been shown to induce CTL-mediated target cell DNA fragmentation and apoptosis. Once released from the CTL, granzyme B binds its receptor, the mannose-6-phosphate/insulin-like growth factor II receptor, and is endocytosed but remains arrested in endocytic vesicles until released by perforin. Once in the cytosol, granzyme B targets caspase-3 directly or indirectly through the mitochondria, initiating the caspase cascade to DNA fragmentation and apoptosis. Caspase activity is required for apoptosis to occur; however, in the absence of caspase activity, granzyme B can still initiate mitochondrial events via the cleavage of Bid. Recent work shows that granzyme B-mediated release of apoptotic factors from the mitochondria is essential for the full activation of caspase-3. Thus, granzyme B acts at multiple points to initiate the death of the offending cell. Studies of the granzyme B death receptor and internal signaling pathways may lead to critical advances in cell transplantation and cancer therapy.