HLA-E is a non-classical MHC molecule whose expression by tumour cells has been recently reported in several human cancer types. We studied HLA-E expression in colorectal cancer patients, its clinical significance and prognostic value, as well as characterized its expression in colorectal cancer cell lines. We analysed HLA-E expression at the transcript level by qRT-PCR in micro-dissected samples and at the protein level by semiquantitative immunohistochemistry on paraffin-embedded tissue sections from 42 biopsies of colorectal cancer patients. We observed that HLA-E transcript and protein are spontaneously overexpressed in a significant proportion of colorectal tumour biopsies, as compared to normal mucosae. We also found a negative correlation between HLA-E expression and the CD57+ cells infiltrate. Moreover, we analysed HLA-E expression in several colorectal cancer cell lines and demonstrated that IFN-gamma upregulates the expression of membrane HLA-E in vitro. Interestingly, we demonstrated that colorectal cancer cell lines overexpressing HLA-E at the cell surface inhibited NK-mediated cell lysis. Although IFN-gamma regulatory role needs further investigation, we provide evidence suggesting that this cytokine, within the tumour microenvironment, could promote HLA-E translocation to the surface of tumour epithelial cells. Furthermore, we showed that upregulation of HLA-E could be a marker of shorter disease-free survival in Dukes' C patients and we suggest that this molecule renders tumours less susceptible to immune attack.