Differential expression of granzymes A and B in human cytotoxic lymphocyte subsets and T regulatory cells

William J. Grossman, James W. Verbsky, Benjamin L. Tollefsen, Claudia Kemper, John P. Atkinson, Timothy J. Ley*

*Corresponding author for this work
349 Citations (Scopus)


Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) and natural killer (NK) cells use the perform/granzyme pathway as a major mechanism to kill pathogen-containing cells and tumor cells. Dysregulation of this pathway results in several human diseases, such as hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. Here we characterize the single-cell expression pattern of granzymes A and B in human lymphocytes using a flow cytometry-based assay. We demonstrate that most circulating CD56 +8- NK cells, and approximately half of circulating CD8+ T lymphocytes, coexpressed both granzymes A and B. In contrast, few circulating CD4+ T lymphocytes expressed granzymes A or B. Activation of CD8+ T lymphocytes with concanavalin A (ConA)/Interleukln-2 (IL-2), and activation of CD4+ T lymphocytes with antibodies to CD8/CD28 or CD3/CD46 (to generate T regulatory [Tr1] cells), induced substantial expression of granzyme B, but not granzyme A. Naive CD4 +CD45RA+ cells stimulated with antibodies to CD3/CD46 strongly expressed granzyme B, while CD3/CD28 stimulation was ineffective. Finally, we show that granzyme B-expressing CD4+ Tr1 cells are capable of killing target cells in a perforin-dependent, but major histocompatibility complex (MHC)/T-cell receptor (TCR)-independent, manner. Our results demonstrate discordant expression of granzymes A and B in human lymphocyte subsets and T regulatory cells, which suggests that different granzymes may play unique roles in immune system responses and regulation.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)2840-2848
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 01.11.2004

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)


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