BACKGROUND: The purpose of the present study was to investigate transcripts of perforin, granzyme B, and Fas ligand (FasL) in heart transplants undergoing rejection. METHODS: Quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction was applied for mRNA detection in 29 endomyocardial biopsy specimens from 11 cardiac allograft recipients. RESULTS: The mRNA levels of granzyme B, perforin, and FasL were higher (P<0.05) in biopsy specimens with rejection than in biopsy specimens without rejection (granzyme B, 0.53 vs. 0.09; perforin, 0.34 vs. 0; FasL, 0.57 vs. 0.36). In prerejection biopsy specimens, granzyme B and FasL levels were significantly higher than in biopsy specimens without rejection. Any two of the three transcripts were increased in 100% of prerejection, in 92% of rejection, and in 36% of no rejection biopsy specimens (P<0.04). CONCLUSIONS: The assessment of intragraft levels of cytotoxic T lymphocyte effector molecule mRNA represents a valuable tool in the monitoring of cardiac allograft rejection, especially considering the predictive value for warning of impending acute rejection.