We observed that the soluble complement regulators factor H and factor H-like protein were abundantly present in ascites samples as well as in primary tumours of patients with ovarian cancer. RT-PCR and immunoblotting analyses showed that the two complement inhibitors were constitutively produced by the ovarian tumour cell lines SK-OV-3 and Caov-3, but not PA-1 or SW626 cells. The amounts of factor H-like protein secreted were equal to those of factor H. This is exceptional, because e.g. in normal human serum the concentration of factor H-like protein is below 1/10th of that of factor H. In ascites samples the mean level of factor H-like protein (130+/-55 microg ml(-1)) was 5.5-fold higher than in normal human serum (24+/-3 microg ml(-1)). Ovarian tumour cells thus preferentially synthesise factor H-like protein, the alternatively spliced short variant of factor H. The tumour cells were found to bind both (125)I-labelled factor H and recombinant factor H-like protein to their surfaces. Surprisingly, the culture supernatants of all of the ovarian tumour cell lines studied, including those of PA-1 and SW626 that did not produce factor H/factor H-like protein, promoted factor I-mediated cleavage of C3b to inactive iC3b. Subsequently, the PA-1 and SW626 cell lines were found to secrete a soluble form of the membrane cofactor protein (CD46). Thus, our studies reveal two novel complement resistance mechanisms of ovarian tumour cells: (i) production of factor H-like protein and factor H and (ii) secretion of soluble membrane cofactor protein. Secretion of soluble complement inhibitors could protect ovarian tumour cells against humoral immune attack and pose an obstacle for therapy with monoclonal antibodies.
Copyright 2002 Cancer Research UK