MHC expression on human tumors--its relevance for local tumor growth and metastasis

Semin Cancer Biol. 1991 Feb;2(1):3-10.


MHC class I and II molecules play an important role in specific interactions with cells of the immune system. Endogenous or exogenous antigens are presented to the clonotypic receptor of T cells as small peptides associated to MHC molecules. Qualitative or quantitative variation in the expression of these molecules in the surface of tumor cells could have important implications in anti-tumor immune responses. We have analysed 344 human tumors for HLA class I and II expression and found that 10-30% of tumors present a total loss of HLA ABC molecules. In addition, HLA-A or -B locus-specific losses were also detected. These alterations have been correlated with tumor aggressiveness in breast and laryngeal carcinomas. We also have observed that the expression of HLA ABC molecules in autologous metastasis did not always correspond with the expression detected in the primary tumor. In laryngeal carcinomas HLA-DR expression was associated with an excellent prognosis. We have observed in most tumors that the absence of class I molecules usually corresponds with a simultaneous loss of heavy chain and beta 2 microglobulin expression and with a low level of the mRNA specific for class I genes. Nevertheless, a variety of mechanisms are involved since in colon tumors the absence of expression is caused by beta 2 microglobulin down regulation. Also post-transcriptional mechanisms may be involved in the differential expression of HLA-A and -B locus products. There is no doubt that a more exact knowledge of the mechanisms that produce alteration in the expression of these antigens will help to manipulate MHC gene expression in human tumors and to induce a more efficient immune response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Gene Rearrangement
  • HLA Antigens / biosynthesis*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / immunology*


  • HLA Antigens