Regulation of perforin activation and pre-synaptic toxicity through C-terminal glycosylation

Imran G. House, Colin M. House, Amelia J. Brennan, Omer Gilan, Mark A. Dawson, James C. Whisstock, Ruby H.P. Law, Joseph A. Trapani, Ilia Voskoboinik

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26 Citations (Scopus)


Perforin is a highly cytotoxic pore-forming protein essential for immune surveillance by cytotoxic lymphocytes. Prior to delivery to target cells by exocytosis, perforin is stored in acidic secretory granules where it remains functionally inert. However, how cytotoxic lymphocytes remain protected from their own perforin prior to its export to secretory granules, particularly in the Ca2+-rich endoplasmic reticulum, remains unknown. Here, we show that N-linked glycosylation of the perforin C-terminus at Asn549 within the endoplasmic reticulum inhibits oligomerisation of perforin monomers and thus protects the host cell from premature pore formation. Subsequent removal of this glycan occurs through proteolytic processing of the C-terminus within secretory granules and is imperative for perforin activation prior to secretion. Despite evolutionary conservation of the C-terminus, we found that processing is carried out by multiple proteases, which we attribute to the unstructured and exposed nature of the region. In sum, our studies reveal a post-translational regulatory mechanism essential for maintaining perforin in an inactive state until its secretion from the inhibitory acidic environment of the secretory granule.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1775-1785
Number of pages11
JournalEMBO Reports
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017


  • cytotoxic lymphocytes
  • glycosylation
  • immune synapse
  • natural killer cells
  • proteolysis

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