Class I major histocompatibility complex (MHC) antigen expression in neuroblastoma may play a role in the oncogenicity of this embryonal tumor of childhood. Since N-myc amplification in neuroblastoma tumors is associated with rapid tumor progression (33) and N-myc decreases Class I MHC antigen expression in rat neuroblastoma cells (21), we quantitated levels of N-myc mRNA and Class I MHC cell surface antigens in a panel of 24 human neuroblastoma cell lines. We found that N-myc expression is not invariably associated with low levels of β2-microglobulin (B2M) and Class I MHC antigen expression. As we considered that Class I MHC antigens may be regulated in association with the differentiation stage of the neuroblastoma tumor, we examined the expression of B2M during development of the human adrenal medulla, the tissue of origin of most neuroblastomas. We found that B2M is a marker of differentiated adrenal medullary cells, expressed late during the third trimester of development. Moreover, using morphological and immunological criteria, we found that B2M is expressed in differentiated tumor cells. These data suggest that the expression of B2M in neuroblastoma is associated with the stage of differentiation of the tumor cell and not N-myc expression. Furthermore, these findings suggest that neuroblastomas may correspond to the arrested differentiation of adrenal neuroblasts at different stages of development.

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