Expression of the proteasome subunits LMP2 and LMP7, the MHC-encoded transporter subunits TAP1 and TAP2, and HLA Class I antigens was examined by immunoperoxidase staining in 10 nevi and 98 melanoma lesions (60 primary and 38 metastatic), because these molecules play an important role in the presentation of melanoma-associated peptide antigens to cytotoxic T cells. LMP2 was less frequently expressed than LMP7 in primary and metastatic melanoma lesions. TAP1, TAP2, and HLA Class I antigen expression was more frequently (P < 0.05) down-regulated in metastatic than in primary melanoma lesions and in nevi. A synchronous TAP1, TAP2, and HLA Class I antigen down-regulation was observed in 58% of primary and 52% of metastatic lesions. TAP and HLA Class I antigen down-regulation in primary lesions was significantly associated with lesion thickness, stage of disease, reduced time to disease progression, and reduced survival. These results suggest that TAP down-regulation plays a role in the clinical course of malignant melanoma, probably by providing melanoma cells with a mechanism to escape from cytotoxic T lymphocyte recognition during disease progression.