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Programmed cell death, apoptosis, involves very distinctive changes within the target cell nucleus, including margination of the chromatin, DNA fragmentation and breakdown of the nuclear envelope. Cytolytic granule-mediated target cell apoptosis is effected, in part, through synergistic action of the membrane-acting protein perforin and serine proteases, such as granzymes A or B. Recent work using confocal laser scanning microscopy as well as other techniques supports the idea that perforin-dependent translocation of granzymes to the nucleus of target cells plays a central role in effecting the nuclear changes associated with apoptosis. In vitro experiments indicate that granzyme nuclear import follows a novel pathway, being independent of ATP, not inhibitable by non-hydrolysable GTP analogues and involving binding within the nucleus, unlike conventional signal- dependent nuclear protein import. In intact cells, perforin-dependent nuclear entry of granzymes precedes the nuclear events of apoptosis such as DNA fragmentation and nuclear envelope breakdown; prevention of granzyme nuclear translocation through bcl2 overexpression or treatment of target cells with inhibitors of caspase activation blocks these events. Nuclear localization of granzymes thus appears to be central to induction of the nuclear changes associated with cytolytic granule-mediated apoptosis.