Oncogenic transformation in human and experimental animals is not necessarily followed by the appearance of a tumor mass. The immune system of the host can recognize tumor antigens by the presentation of small antigenic peptides to the receptor of cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTLs) and reject the nascent tumor. However, cancer cells can sometimes escape these specific T-cell immune responses in the course of somatic (genetic and phenotypic) clonal evolution. Among the tumor immune escape mechanisms described to date, the alterations in the expression of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules play a crucial step in tumor development due to the role of MHC antigens in antigen presentation to T-lymphocytes and the regulation of natural killer cell (NK) cell function. In this work, we have (1) updated information on the mechanisms that allow CTLs to recognize tumor antigens after antigen processing by transformed cells, (2) described the altered MHC class I phenotypes that are commonly found in human tumors, (3) summarized the molecular mechanisms responsible for MHC class I alteration in human tumors, (4) provided evidence that these altered human leukocyte antigens (HLA) class I phenotypes are detectable as result of a T-cell immunoselection of HLA class I-deficient variants by an immunecompetent host, and (5) presented data indicating the MHC class I phenotype and the immunogenicity of experimental metastatic tumors change drastically when tumors develop in immunodeficient mice.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.