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Cancer Res. 1991 Jun 15;51(12):3164-70.

Expression of HLA-A2 antigen in human melanoma cell lines and its role in T-cell recognition.

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Department of Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown.


Previous studies have suggested that, in human melanoma, expression of HLA-A2 antigen is important for tumor cell recognition by autologous T-lymphocytes. Because of the recent demonstration that expression of HLA Class I antigens may be selectively lost in several human tumors, including melanoma, we derived pairs of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) and melanoma cell lines from 4 human lymphocytic antigen (HLA)-A2+ patients with metastatic melanoma. We observed that, although all 4 TIL cultures expressed HLA-A2 antigen, only 2 melanoma cell lines did so. Melanoma cells derived from the other 2 patients showed neither surface expression of the HLA-A2 antigen nor presence of the corresponding mRNA. We also observed some correlation between loss of HLA-A2 expression and level of c-myc transcription. TIL derived from patients whose melanoma cell lines had normal expression of HLA-A2 had a CD8 phenotype and were capable of lysing autologous melanoma cells. Melanoma cell killing was CD3 and major histocompatibility complex Class I restricted in both cases, but HLA-A2 restricted in only one case. On the other hand, TIL derived from the 2 patients whose melanoma cell lines had lost expression of HLA-A2 had a predominant CD4 phenotype and virtually no cytotoxic activity. Preincubation of the HLA-A2 negative melanoma cell lines with alpha- or gamma-interferon did not induce the re-expression of the HLA-A2 antigen. In an attempt to restore HLA-A2 antigen expression in one of the melanoma cell lines that were HLA-A2 negative, we transfected these cells with the HLA-A2 gene subcloned in the pSV2-neo vector. Four transfected clones, with high levels of HLA-A2 antigen expression, were expanded and characterized. Proliferative and cytotoxic activities of TIL against the autologous transfected clones as well as the untransfected parental melanoma cell line were measured and compared. CD4+ TIL showed no difference in the proliferative response to autologous parental and HLA-A2 transfected clones. However, we observed selective recognition of the HLA-A2 expressing clones by autologous cultured peripheral blood lymphocytes (which contained CD8 cells) as well as allogeneic CD8+ TIL with a HLA-A2 restricted pattern of recognition. In contrast, virtually no cytotoxic activity was detected against either parental or HLA-A2 transfected clones. Overall, our data suggest that selective down-regulation of HLA-A2 antigen expression in melanoma cells may represent one of the mechanisms by which tumor cells escape immunological recognition.

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