Recent reports suggested a correlation between decreased expression of tumor cell MHC class I Ag and increased susceptibility to NK cells. These studies led to the hypothesis that tumor cells displaying reduced levels of MHC class I Ag have reduced tumorigenicity in vivo because they are eliminated from the host by endogenous NK cells. The present studies use the murine hepatoma BW7756 and a spontaneous H-2Kb loss variant, Hepa-1, to test this hypothesis. The parental BW7756 tumor is highly malignant in syngeneic C57L/J hosts while Hepa-1 cells do not give rise to tumors, suggesting that the loss of H-2Kb Ag expression correlates with decreased tumorigenicity and NK susceptibility. Hepa-1 cells were therefore transfected with an H-2Kb gene to generate H-2Kb Ag expressing clones. The resulting clones were tested for tumorigenicity. Syngeneic or NK-deficient C57BL/6-beige/beige mice challenged with Hepa-1 or the H-2Kb transfectants rejected the cells, suggesting that reexpression of H-2Kb Ag does not restore tumorigenicity and that NK cells are not involved in Hepa-1 rejection. In vitro H-2Kb Ag-negative and -positive Hepa-1 cells are equally susceptible to tilorone-boosted NK cells, indicating that MHC class I Ag expression also does not affect in vitro NK susceptibility. Tumor challenged athymic nude and sublethally irradiated syngeneic mice develop tumors demonstrating that T cells are probably responsible for rejection of the Hepa-1 tumor, and that H-2Kb Ag expression has no effect on rejection. Inasmuch as the expression of H-2Kb Ag on Hepa-1 cells does not effect tumorigenicity or in vitro NK susceptibility, the previously reported association between reduced MHC class I Ag levels and increased NK susceptibility is not universally applicable.

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