Th cells are stimulated by peptide Ag presented in the context of MHC class II molecules. We have reasoned that immune responses against tumors may be more efficient if tumor cells were class II Ag positive, and thereby able to directly function as APC to stimulate tumor-specific Th cell proliferation. We have tested this hypothesis by using DNA-mediated gene transfer to generate syngeneic MHC class II Ag-expressing mouse Sal sarcoma cells (Sal/Ak transfectants). Autologous A/J mice challenged i.p. or s.c. with Sal/Ak transfectants do not develop tumors, whereas A/J mice challenged with the class II negative parental Sal tumor have a high tumor incidence. Furthermore, immunization of the autologous host with Sal/Ak transfectants completely protects against subsequent challenge with wild-type Sal cells. MHC class II-expressing tumor cells, therefore, stimulate an improved tumor-specific immune response, and the immunity is cross-reactive with the class II negative tumor. Inasmuch as the transfected MHC class II gene product is not functioning as a target molecule for autologous tumor rejection, the improved immunogenicity of the Sal/Ak cells is probably due to stimulation of a tumor-specific Th cell population. The increased immunogenicity of Sal/Ak cells is, therefore, probably the result of direct presentation of Sal tumor-associated Ag in the context of tumor cell MHC class II molecules to Th lymphocytes. These studies demonstrate that induction of tumor cell MHC class II Ag expression is a potential strategy for tumor-specific immunotherapy, and suggest that tumor immunity may be enhanced by improved Th cell generation.

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