A panel of 31 long-term non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines was examined for the expression of protein and/or mRNA transcripts for 11 distinct immune response related molecules or tumor associated antigens (TAA). To assess whether cytokine stimulation might up-regulate expression of the genes of interest, cells were cultured in 500 U/ml of gamma-interferon (gamma-IFN) for 48-72 h prior to analysis. Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) Class I antigens were detected by indirect immunofluorescence and were constitutively expressed on all of the cell lines. The average of the mean fluorescence intensity (MFI) measured 222+/-22. gamma-IFN stimulation produced a significant increase to 482+/-36. For MHC Class II only 7/31 cell lines (23%) exhibited constitutive expression, while gamma-IFN treatment had a dramatic effect and yielded 18/31 (58%) positive cell lines. The co-stimulatory molecules CD80 and CD86 were examined by direct immunofluorescence for cell surface expression and RT-PCR amplification for mRNA. CD80 protein was not detected at all, while an insignificant percentage of cells were positive (mean 2%) for CD86 in all cell lines tested. gamma-IFN had no apparent effect on CD80 or CD86 protein expression. Constitutive CD80 or CD86 mRNA levels were observed in 45 and 61% of the NSCLC lines, respectively. These percentages increased to 77% and 90% with gamma-IFN. Cell surface phenotypic analysis for TAA revealed positive populations in 28/31 cell lines (90%) for Her-2/neu, 18/31 (58%) for CEA and 8/31 (26%) for GD-2, with gamma-IFN having no effect. After gamma-IFN stimulation, RT-PCR amplification for Mage-1, -2, -3 and WT-1 detected mRNA in 33%, 33%, 44% and 70% of the cell lines, respectively. Overall, gamma-IFN stimulation led to the up-regulation of MHC Class I molecules and class II molecules as well as CD80 and CD86 mRNA transcripts. This survey represents the first comprehensive analysis of NSCLC cell lines for a variety of molecules that could play an important role in the generation of an NSCLC anti-tumor CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response.