Downregulation of tapasin expression in progressive human malignant melanoma

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Tumor cells with alterations in the MHC class I peptide-loading complex are unable to load peptide antigens onto MHC class I molecules. These alterations result in destabilization of MHC class I expression on the tumor cell surface and thus play a critical role in escape from immunological recognition by the acquired cellular immune system. By forming physical links between class I heavy chains and TAP molecules, a component of the class I peptide-loading complex, tapasin, plays an important role in the assembly of MHC class I molecules with peptides in the endoplasmic reticulum. In the present study, we compared 104 human melanoma lesions representing different stages of tumor progression for their expression of tapasin in tumor cells by immunohistochemistry. Tapasin downregulation was significantly associated with tumor progression. Whereas 100% of melanomata in situ and 96.2% of primary melanomas with a Breslow index of ≤0.75 mm showed strong expression of tapasin, significant downregulation of tapasin was observed in 25% of primary melanomas with a Breslow index >0.75 mm as well as in 21.1% metastatic melanoma lesions. The downregulation of tapasin in advanced stages of human melanoma may reflect the accumulation of alterations in the antigen-presenting/processing machinery associated with neoplastic progression. These alterations may lead to failure of the acquired cellular immune system to control progression and metastatic spread of melanoma cells in vivo, and thus contribute to the immune escape phenotype of human melanoma cells.

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