We investigated the ubiquitination and degradation of a tumor antigen, the HER-2/neu (HER-2) protooncogene product which is overexpressed in epithelial cancers. HER-2 degradation was investigated in the ovarian tumor line, SKOV3.A2, that constitutively overexpressed long-life HER-2. We used as agonist geldanamycin (GA), which initiated downmodulation of HER-2 from the cell surface. HER-2 was polyubiquitinated and degraded faster in the presence than in the absence of GA. GA did not decrease HLA-A2 expression. Presentation of the immunodominant cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) epitope, E75 (369-377) from SKOV.A2 was inhibited by proteasome inhibitors, such as LLnL but was enhanced by cysteine protease inhibitors such as E64, indicating that both the proteasome and cysteine proteases are involved in epitope formation but have different effects. Enhanced tumor recognition was not an immediate or early effect of GA treatment, but was evident after 20 h of GA treatment. In contrast, 20 h GA treatment did not increase tumor sensitivity to LAK cell lysis. Twenty hour GA-treated SKOV3.A2 cells expressed an unstable HER-2 protein synthesized in the presence of GA, of faster electrophoretic mobility than control HER-2. This suggested that the newly synthesized HER-2 in the presence of GA was the main source of epitopes recognized by CTL. Twenty hour GA-treated SKOV3.A2 cells were better inducers of CTL activity directed to a number of HER-2 CTL epitopes, in peripheral blood mononuclear cells compared with control untreated SKOV3.A2 cells. Thus, induction of HER-2 protein instability enhanced the sensitivity of tumor for CTL lysis. Increased HER-2 CTL epitopes presentation may have implications for overcoming the poor immuno-genicity of human tumors, and design of epitope precursors for cancer vaccination.