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J Immunol. 2001 Jul 1;167(1):98-106.

Constitutive expression of MHC class II genes in melanoma cell lines results from the transcription of class II transactivator abnormally initiated from its B cell-specific promoter.

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  • 1Unité Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, Unité 396, Centre de Recherches Biomédicales des Cordeliers, Paris, France.


In melanoma cell lines, two different patterns of MHC class II expression have been described, either an IFN gamma-inducible expression of HLA-DR and HLA-DP, with a faint or null expression of HLA-DQ, resembling that described for melanocytes, or a constitutive expression, i.e., IFN-gamma independent, of all three HLA-D isotypes. As this latter phenotype has been associated with a more rapid progression of melanoma tumors, we have analyzed in different melanoma cell lines the molecular mechanisms leading to this abnormal pattern of MHC class II expression. In agreement with the evidence of a coordinate transcription of the HLA-D genes in these cell lines, we have shown the constitutive expression of CIITA (class II transactivator) transcripts, CIITA being known as the master switch of MHC class II expression. Unexpectedly, these transcripts initiate from promoter III of the CIITA gene, a promoter that is mainly used constitutively in B lymphocytes. This expression was further shown to occur through factor(s) acting on the enhancer located upstream of CIITA promoter III, which was previously described in epithelioid cells as an IFN-gamma-response sequence. The hypothesis of a general abnormality of the IFN-gamma transduction pathway was dismissed. Constitutive transcription of CIITA from promoter III having been observed in unrelated melanoma cell lines, we propose the hypothesis that this phenomenon might not be a random event, but could be linked to the neoplasic state of the melanoma cells.

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