A cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) characteristically kills target cells one after the other by releasing toxic granules that contain one or more cytolytic components. To determine how CTLs avoid destroying themselves when they release granules and lyse target cells, 7 murine CD8+ CTL cell lines were compared with 19 other cell lines for susceptibility to lysis by the isolated toxic granules. Murine CD8+ CTLs were clearly the most resistant cells: granules did not lyse them even after they were exposed to azide, cyanide, and 2-deoxyglucose, conditions that were found to enhance the susceptibility of all the other cells tested, including other T cells. Thus, resistance of CD8+ CTLs to cytotoxic granules appears to be independent of cellular ATP. To reconcile these findings with other observations that, under some circumstances, CTLs can be lysed by other CTLs, we suggest a model in which a CTL releases only a limited proportion of its toxic granules at each antigen-specific encounter with a target cell; the amount released is sufficient to kill most target cells but to leave the CTL undamaged and with enough granules to attack other target cells.

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