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J Immunol. 2006 Sep 1;177(5):3100-7.

Expression and release of HLA-E by melanoma cells and melanocytes: potential impact on the response of cytotoxic effector cells.

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Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale Unité 601, Nantes, France.


HLA-E are nonclassical MHC molecules with poorly characterized tissue distribution and functions. Because of their capacity to bind the inhibitory receptor, CD94/NKG2A, expressed by NK cells and CTL, HLA-E molecules might play an important role in immunomodulation. In particular, expression of HLA-E might favor tumor cell escape from CTL and NK immunosurveillance. To address the potential role of HLA-E in melanoma immunobiology, we assessed the expression of these molecules ex vivo in human melanoma biopsies and in melanoma and melanocyte cell lines. Melanoma cell lines expressed no or low surface, but significant intracellular levels of HLA-E. We also report for the first time that some of them produced a soluble form of this molecule. IFN-gamma significantly increased the surface expression of HLA-E and the shedding of soluble HLA-E by these cells, in a metalloproteinase-dependent fashion. In contrast, melanocyte cell lines constitutively expressed HLA-E molecules that were detectable both at the cell surface and in the soluble form, at levels that were poorly affected by IFN-gamma treatment. On tumor sections, a majority of tumor cells of primary, but a low proportion of metastatic melanomas (30-70 and 10-20%, respectively), expressed HLA-E. Finally, HLA-E expression at the cell surface of melanoma cells decreased their susceptibility to CTL lysis. These data demonstrate that HLA-E expression and shedding are normal features of melanocytes, which are conserved in melanoma cells of primary tumors, but become dependent on IFN-gamma induction after metastasis. The biological significance of these findings warrants further investigation.

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