We report that the loss of one major histocompatibility complex haplotype in human melanoma cells not only allowed them to evade immunosurveillance but also increased their intrinsic oncogenic potential. A second successive defect in MHC-I expression, MHC-I total downregulation, gave rise to melanoma cells that were more oncogenic per se in vivo and showed a higher proliferation rate and greater migratory and invasive potential in vitro.
All these processes were reversed by restoring MHC-I expression via human leukocite antigen-A2 gene transfection. MHC-I cell surface expression was inversely correlated with intrinsic oncogenic potential.
Modifications in the expression of various cell cycle genes were correlated with changes in MHC-I expression; the most important differences among the melanoma cell lines were in the transcriptional level of AP2-alpha, cyclin A1 and p21WAF1/CIP1. According to these results, altered MHC-I expression in malignant cells can directly increase their intrinsic oncogenic and invasive potential and modulate the expression of cell cycle genes.
These findings suggest that human leukocite antigen class I molecules may act directly as tumor suppressor genes in melanoma.