Monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs) 225.28, 657.9, and 902.5 recognizing distinct epitopes of the human high molecular weight melanoma associated antigen (HMW-MAA) were used to investigate the molecular and cellular heterogeneity of the HMW-MAA synthesized by human melanoma cells. Sequential immunodepletion and immunoprecipitation experiments showed that not all HMW-MAA molecules synthesized by a melanoma cell line express the antigenic determinants recognized by the three monoclonal antibodies. The majority of the HMW-MAA molecules expressed the epitope defined by MoAb 657.9 since this monoclonal antibody depleted the melanoma cell lysate of all antigen molecules recognized by the other two monoclonal antibodies. Depletion with MoAb 902.5 resulted in the removal of a large proportion of the HMW-MAA molecules precipitated by MoAb 657.9. The MoAb 225.28 depleted the cell lysate of only a fraction of the HMW-MAA molecules recognized by MoAb 657.9 and 902.5. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis and peptide mapping analysis did not detect any significant difference among the HMW-MAA immunoprecipitated by the three monoclonal antibodies. The heterogeneity of the epitopes recognized by the three monoclonal antibodies is, at least partly, due to glycosylation of the antigen molecule, since treatment of melanoma cells with glycosidases differentially affects their ability to bind the three anti-HMW-MAA monoclonal antibodies. Fluorescent activated cell sorting analysis of the melanoma cells showed that the heterogeneity exhibited by the HMW-MAA is not due to the presence of different cell clones in the culture but reflects a differential distribution of epitopes on the HMW-MAA expressed on the surface of individual cells. Immunohistochemical staining of surgically removed benign and malignant lesions of melanocytic origin, of normal tissues, and of malignant lesions has shown a differential tissue distribution of the determinants recognized by the three monoclonal antibodies. Staining of melanoma cell lines and of surgically removed melanoma lesions with combinations of the three monoclonal antibodies did not cause any significant change of the percentage of stained cells but markedly increased the intensity of staining. These results indicate that combinations of monoclonal antibodies to distinct determinants of HMW-MAA can markedly increase the sensitivity of immunohistochemical techniques to detect melanoma cells.


This work was supported by National Institutes of Health grant CA37959 NY, by CNR Progetto Finalizzato Oncologia 860069044 and by AIRC.

This content is only available via PDF.