The requirement for target cell nuclei in the two apoptotic death pathways used by cytotoxic lymphocytes was tested using model effector systems in which the granzyme and Fas pathways of target damage are isolated. Mast cell tumors expressing granzymes A and B in addition to cytolysin/perforin lysed tumor target cells about 10-fold more efficiently than comparable effector cells without granzymes. Enucleated cytoplast targets derived from these cells were also lysed with a similar 10-fold effect of granzymes. In contrast to cytoplasts, effector granzyme expression did not influence lysis of red cell targets. The Fas pathway was assessed using the selected cytotoxic T lymphocyte hybridoma subline d11S, which lysed target cells expressing Fas but not those lacking Fas. Similarly, cytoplasts derived from Fas+ but not Fas- cells were also readily lysed by these effector cells. Thus, neither the nucleus itself nor the characteristic apoptotic nuclear damage associated with the two major cell death pathways used by cytotoxic lymphocytes are required for cell death per se.