Association between natural killer cells and regression in melanocytic lesions

Hum Pathol. 2011 Dec;42(12):1960-4. doi: 10.1016/j.humpath.2011.02.019. Epub 2011 Jun 14.


Mortality from melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers, continues to increase in all age groups. A small number of melanomas spontaneously regress. In vitro studies suggest a role for the natural killer cell in effecting regression. In this study, the goal was to determine if natural killer cells are preferentially involved in the cytotoxic response in regressing lesions. Forty-two cases were selected: nevi with regression, nonregressing melanoma with brisk inflammation, and regressing melanoma. Sections were stained with hematoxylin and eosin and immunostained for CD8, CD56, and T-cell intracytoplasmic antigen 1. Numbers of total lymphocytes, CD8-positive lymphocytes, and T-cell intracytoplasmic antigen 1-positive lymphocytes did not differ among the 3 populations or based on location. CD56 positivity was significantly different among the 3 populations. Regressing melanomas showed the greatest CD56 activity, followed by regressing nevi, whereas inflamed, nonregressing melanomas showed the least. CD56(+) lymphocytes were mostly counted in areas of early regression. The natural killer cell could plausibly play a role in the occurrence of regression as a cytotoxic effector cell or as a mediator of the cytotoxic mechanism.

MeSH terms

  • CD56 Antigen / immunology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Melanoma / immunology*
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Neoplasm Regression, Spontaneous / immunology*
  • Neoplasm Regression, Spontaneous / pathology
  • Nevus / immunology*
  • Paraffin Embedding
  • Skin Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology


  • CD56 Antigen
  • NCAM1 protein, human