Cytolytic granule-mediated target cell killing is effected in part through the synergistic action of the membrane-acting protein perforin and serine proteases such as granzymes (Gr) A and B. In this study, we examine the subcellular distribution of granzymes in the presence of perforin and the induction of apoptosis in mouse FDC-P1 myeloid and YAC-1 lymphoma cells that express the proto-oncogene bcl2. Using confocal laser scanning microscopy to visualize and quantitate subcellular transport of fluoresceinated granzyme, we find that granzyme entry into the cytoplasm in the absence of perforin is not impaired in the bcl2-expressing lines. However, perforin-dependent enhancement of granzyme cellular uptake and, importantly, granzyme redistribution to the nucleus were strongly inhibited in the bcl2-expressing lines, concomitant with greatly increased resistance to granzyme/perforin- induced cell death. DNA fragmentation induced by granzyme/perforin was severely reduced in the bcl2-expressing lines, implying that prevention of granzyme nuclear translocation blocks the nuclear events of apoptosis. The kinetics of GrB nuclear uptake and induction of apoptosis were faster than for GrA, whereas YAC-1 cells showed greater resistance to granzyme nuclear uptake and apoptosis than FDC-P1 cells. In all cases, granzyme nuclear accumulation in the presence of perforin correlated precisely with ensuing apoptosis. All results supported the idea that GrA and GrB share a common, specific nuclear targeting pathway that contributes significantly to the nuclear changes of apoptosis.