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Oesophageal cancer is one of the most aggressive tumours with a poor prognosis. However, little is known about the immune response in the tumour microenvironment. To investigate the role of immunosurveillance in the clinical course of oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma, 98 formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded primary tumours were analysed using immunohistochemical methods for human leucocyte antigen (HLA) class I heavy chain and β2-microglobulin expression and for CD4-, CD8- and CD57-positive cell infiltration. HLA class I expression of tumour cells was correlated positively with infiltration of CD8+ T cells into the cancer nest, but not with the clinical course of disease. However, CD8+ and CD4+ T cell infiltration was correlated with prognosis. These results suggest that tumour antigen-specific cellular immune response plays a role in the clinical course of the disease and that HLA class I antigen expressed on tumour cells contribute to this association most probably by mediating the interactions between tumour cells and CD8+ T cells.