Low prevalence of selective human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A and HLA-B epitope losses in early-passage tumor cell lines

Patrizio Giacomini, Ezio Giorda, Rocco Fraioli, Maria Rita Nicotra, Nello Vitale, Andrea Setini, Laura Delfino, Anna Morabito, Maria Benevolo, Irene Venturo, Marcella Mottolese, Giovan Battista Ferrara, Pier Giorgio Natali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The down-regulation of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I molecules, especially the selective down-regulation of certain allelic products, is believed to represent a major mechanism of tumor escape from immune surveillance. In the present report, an original approach is described to precisely evaluate and classify HLA class I epitope losses in 30 cancer patients with malignant melanoma and lung, breast, endometrium, ovary, and colon carcinoma tumors. Early-passage tumor cell lines were established in culture from the corresponding metastatic tumor lesions obtained in each patient. Both the cell lines and the tumor lesions were compared, in their HLA-A and -B expression, to the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) obtained from the same patient (autologous PBMCs). On the basis of HLA- genotyping data, the appropriate monoclonal antibodies identifying mono- and poly-morphic HLA-A and HLA-B epitopes were selected from a panel of 34 antibodies for a total of 24 testable alleles. The selected antibodies were used not only in immunohistochemical assays on cryostatic tumor sections and cytospins of PBMCs but also in quantitative, sensitive flow cytometry assays on early-passage tumor cells and PBMC suspensions. With this latter method, a low overall HLA expression was detected in 26 tumor cell explants and a complete, generalized HLA-A, HLA-B, HLA-C loss in the remaining 4 cases. However, no complete, selective loss of any of the 45 tested HLA-A and HLA-B allomorphs was observed. Sequences from all of the HLA class I alleles could be detected at the genomic DNA level in tumor cells and tissues. At variance from the literature and the results of immunohistochemical experiments performed in parallel on the corresponding tumor lesions, the relative proportions of the various HLA epitopes were relatively preserved in each early-passage cell line/PBMC pair, and selective increases, rather than decreases, in the expression of polymorphic HLA epitopes had the highest prevalence and greatest magnitude. Our data suggest an alternative tumor stealth strategy in which up- and down-regulation are equally important. This alternative model of tumor-host interaction better fits the available models of tumor cell recognition by CTLs and natural killer cells bearing activatory and inhibitory receptors for HLA-A, HLA-B, HLA-C molecules.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2657-2667
Number of pages11
JournalCancer Research
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology

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