Molecular immunology

The cytotoxic protease granzyme M is expressed by lymphocytes of both the innate and adaptive immune system.

PMID 19896187


The cytotoxic serine protease granzyme M (GrM) is one of the five human granzymes, which are mainly expressed by cytotoxic T lymphocytes and/or NK cells. Upon perforin-dependent entry into a target cell, GrM cleaves specific substrates resulting in the onset of a unique cell death mechanism. However, the role of GrM in pathophysiological conditions is not clear yet. Knowledge of the expression and regulation of GrM by lymphocyte populations is instrumental for a better understanding of the contribution of this unique granzyme in health and disease. Two previous studies demonstrated GrM protein expression by lymphocytes of the innate immune system, i.e., NK cells, NKT cells, and gammadelta T cells, whereas its expression by CD8(+) T cells remained controversial. In the present study, we have investigated the expression and regulation of GrM in lymphocyte subsets in more detail. Flow cytometry analysis with a novel specific antibody against human GrM confirmed high expression of this protease by NK cells, NKT cells, and gammadelta T cells. CD8(+) T cells also expressed GrM and comparing the naive to early effector-memory, to late effector-memory, to effector subset, this expression gradually increased during differentiation. In contrast, CD4(+) T cells hardly expressed GrM. Quantitative PCR analysis for GrM mRNA levels in the diverse lymphocyte sub-populations confirmed the FACS results. GrM protein expression by lymphocyte populations was not significantly affected by a panel of GrB-inducing cytokines, indicating that GrM expression is differentially regulated as compared to GrB. In conclusion, the human cytotoxic protease GrM is, besides by innate immune cells, also expressed by CD8(+) effector T cells, in particular by the differentiated effector CD27(-) CD45RO(-) subset. Our current findings support not only a role for GrM in the innate but also in the adaptive immune response.