Cell-mediated cytotoxicity is one of the major mechanisms by which vertebrates control intracellular pathogens. Two cell types are the main players in this immune response, natural killer (NK) cells and cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL). While NK cells recognize altered target cells in a relatively unspecific manner CTLs use their T cell receptor to identify pathogen-specific peptides that are presented by major histocompatibility (MHC) class I molecules on the surface of infected cells. However, several other signals are needed to regulate cell-mediated cytotoxicity involving a complex network of cytokine- and ligand-receptor interactions. Since the first description of MHC class I molecules in teleosts during the early 90s of the last century a remarkable amount of information on teleost immune responses has been published. The corresponding studies describe teleost cells and molecules that are involved in CTL responses of higher vertebrates. These studies are backed by functional investigations on the killing activity of CTLs in a few teleost species. The present knowledge on teleost CTLs still leaves considerable room for further investigations on the mechanisms by which CTLs act. Nevertheless the information on teleost CTLs and their regulation might already be useful for the control of fish diseases by designing efficient vaccines against such diseases where CTL responses are known to be decisive for the elimination of the corresponding pathogen. This review summarizes the present knowledge on CTL regulation and functions in teleosts. In a special chapter, the role of CTLs in vaccination is discussed.
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