In lung transplant recipients (LTRs), human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) DNAaemia could be associated with HCMV disease and reduced allograft survival. In the present study we analysed whether or not HCMV-specific granzyme B (Grz-B) responses indicating CD8+ T cell cytotoxicity exert an impact on HCMV DNAaemia and relate to specific interferon (IFN)-γ secretion. HCMV-specific Grz-B responses were quantitated by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in 70 samples from 39 HCMV seropositive LTRs who were prospectively investigated for HCMV DNA plasma levels and IFN-γ kinetics using a standardized CD8+ T cell assay (QuantiFERON®-CMV assay). In all LTRs who were protected from HCMV DNAaemia by early and persistent IFN-γ responses, Grz-B responses were also detected. In LTRs who developed episodes of HCMV DNAaemia, the Grz-B responses which were detected prior to viral DNA detection differed significantly in patients who experienced episodes with high (exceeding 1000 copies/ml) and low plasma DNA levels (P = 0·0290, Fisher's exact test). Furthermore, the extent of Grz-B release prior to viral DNAaemia correlated statistically with the detected levels of IFN-γ (P < 0·0001, Spearman's rank test). Of note, simultaneous detection of Grz-B and IFN-γ secretion was associated significantly with protection from high HCMV DNA plasma levels during the subsequent follow-up (P = 0·0057, Fisher's exact test), and this association was stronger than for IFN-γ detection alone. We conclude that, in addition to IFN-γ responses, Grz-B secretion by CD8+ T cells is essential to control HCMV replication and a simultaneous measurement of IFN-γ and Grz-B could contribute to the immune monitoring of LTRs.