Malignant transformation is often associated with genetic alterations providing tumor cells with mechanisms for escape from immune surveillance. Human and murine tumors of various origin as well as in vitro models of viral and oncogenic transformation express reduced levels of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I antigens resulting in decreased sensitivity to MHC class I-restricted cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL)-mediated lysis. We here investigate whether the suppressed MHC class I surface expression of ras-transformed fibroblasts is due to dysregulation of the genes of the antigen-processing machinery, the peptide transporters TAP-1 and TAP-2 and the proteasome subunits LMP-2 and LMP-7, and whether it can be restored by gene transfer. In comparison to parental NIH3T3 cells, the ras oncogenic transformants revealed reduced TAP and LMP mRNA expression and impaired function of these genes, leading to deficient peptide transport and peptide loading of MHC class I molecules resulting in instable expression of the MHC class I complex on the cell surface. Enhanced H-2 surface expression due to stabilization of the MHC class I complex could be achieved by culturing ras transformants at low, unphysiological temperature (26 degrees C) or by loading these cells with either exogenous human beta2-microglobulin or MHC class I-binding peptide alone or in combination. Furthermore, interferon-gamma treatment was capable to enhance the expression of TAP, LMP and MHC class I molecules in both parental as well as ras-transformed fibroblasts. Stable transfection of the human TAP-1 cDNA into ras transformants caused a partial reconstitution of the peptide transport and an enhancement of the MHC class I surface expression, whereas the level of MHC class I biosynthesis was not affected by TAP-1 overexpression in parental cells. Together these results point to the existence of an association between oncogenic transformation and deficiencies in the MHC class I antigen-restricted immunosurveillance, suggesting intervention strategies involving specific MHC class I-binding peptides or transfection of the LMP and/or TAP genes to overcome the expression of the immune escape phenotype.