Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) are able to recognize and destroy target cells bearing foreign antigen using one of two distinct mechanisms: granule- or Fas-mediated cytotoxicity. The exact mechanisms involved in the induction of apoptotic cell death remain elusive; however, it seems likely that a family of cysteine proteases related to interleukin-1β converting enzyme are involved. One family member, CPP32, has been identified as an intracellular substrate for granzyme B, a CTL-specific serine protease responsible for the early induction of target cell DNA fragmentation. Here we use cytolytic cells from granzyme B-deficient mice to confirm that cleavage and activation of CPP32 represents a nonredundant role for granzyme B and that this activation plays a role in the induction of DNA fragmentation in target cells, a signature event for apoptotic cell death. A peptide inhibitor of CPP32-like proteases confirmed the function of these enzymes in fragmentation. 51Cr release was not suppressed under these conditions, suggesting that granzyme B cleavage of CPP32 is primarily involved in the induction of DNA fragmentation and not membrane damage during CTL-induced apoptosis.