Granzyme K (GrK) is a member of a highly conserved group of potent serine proteases specifically found in the secretory granules of cytotoxic T lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Based on the report indicating that inter-alpha inhibitor proteins are the physiological inhibitors of GrK and on previous findings that showed a significant decrease in plasma inter-alpha inhibitor proteins in patients with sepsis, it was our aim to determine whether increased levels of uninhibited GrK would contribute to the development of sepsis. To test this hypothesis, a competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay system was developed; and the levels of GrK were measured in plasma samples obtained from healthy controls and 2 sets of patients with sepsis: patients admitted to the emergency department with a putative diagnosis of sepsis and patients with severe sepsis enrolled in a clinical trial. In addition, the molecular form(s) of GrK present in these samples was analyzed by Western blot. The levels of GrK were significantly increased in emergency department patients compared with healthy controls and significantly decreased in patients with severe sepsis enrolled in a clinical trial compared with healthy controls. GrK was detected as high-molecular-weight protein complexes in healthy controls but as complexes of lower molecular weight in the septic patients. The decrease in complex size correlated with the appearance of a band at 26 kDa similar to the size of free GrK. Our results indicate that plasma levels of GrK could serve as a useful diagnostic marker to stage sepsis, permitting better classification of septic patients and enabling targeting of specific treatments, and may play a functional role in the development of sepsis.