In vivo experiments performed with NIH (nu/nu, bg/bg, xid/xid) triple immunodeficient (TD) mice revealed the striking ability of i.v. injected B16-F1 and B16-F10 murine melanoma cells to colonize not only the lungs but also the liver of TD mice. Subsequently, B16 melanoma cell cultures, which express very low levels of H-2Kb antigen, were cotransfected with plasmids pRSVneo, containing the neomycin resistance gene, and 6-2B1pMT, expressing the H-2Kb complentary DNA under the control of the metallothionein enhancer-promoter. Several neomycin-resistant clones were analyzed for H-2Kb and H-2Db expression by RNase protection and flow cytometry assays. All parental lines and transfected clones expressed normal levels of H-2Db mRNA, while only some of the transfected clones expressed easily detectable levels of H-2Kb mRNA. Moreover, in these clones H-2Kb expression could be enhanced in the presence of Zn2+, indicating that the metallothionein enhancer was functioning properly. Parental cells and transfected clones were injected i.v. in TD mice to assess the possible involvement of H-2Kb antigen in regulating the metastatic potential of B16 melanoma cells. We observed a remarkable correlation between expression of H-2Kb antigen and suppression of liver-specific metastases in TD mice. Identical results were obtained when we gave TD mice injections of mixed populations of transfectants expressing H-2Kb antigen, obtained by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. These experiments allowed us to rule out the possibility that the observed changes in metastatic potential were due to clonal variability among individual transfected clones. Taken together, the results of our in vivo studies with immunodeficient mice support the notion that specific major histocompatibility complex Class I molecules modulate the metastatic potential of malignant cells also by mechanisms which are independent of their well-established role in antigen presentation.

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This work was supported in part by grants from the NIH. L. C. is a Fellow sponsored by the Italian Association for Cancer Research (AIRC).

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