Traditionally, heat shock proteins (HSPs) are believed to be located intracellularly, where they perform a variety of chaperoning functions. Recently, evidence has accumulated that some tumor cells express HSPs on the cell surface. The present study confirms this finding and correlates HSP72 cell surface expression, induced by nonlethal heat shock, with an increased sensitivity to interleukin-2-stimulated CD3- natural killer (NK) cells. After nonlethal heat shock, a monoclonal antibody directed against the major heat-inducible 72-kD HSP (HSP72) stains the cell surface of sarcoma cells (ie, Ewing's sarcoma cells or osteosarcoma cells) but not that of normal cells (ie, peripheral blood lymphocytes, fibroblasts, phytohemagglutin-stimulated blasts, B- lymphoblastoid cell lines) or of mammary carcinoma cell line MX-1 carcinoma cells. In this study, we show for the first time a correlation of HSP72 cell surface expression with an increased susceptibility to lysis by NK effector cells. This finding is supported by the following points: (1) HLA-disparate effector cells show similar, elevated lysis of HSP72+ heat-treated sarcoma cells; (2) CD(3-) NK cells, but not CD3+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes, are responsible for the recognition of heat-shocked sarcoma cells; (3) by antibody-blocking studies, an immunogenic HSP72 determinant, which is expressed selectively on the cell surface of heat-treated sarcoma cells could be correlated with NK recognition; (4) the reported phenomenon is independent of a heat-induced, transient downregulation of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class-I expression; and (5) blocking of MHC class-I-restricted recognition, using either MHC class-I- specific monoclonal antibody W6/32 on the target cells or alpha/beta T- cell receptor monoclonal antibody WT31 on effector cells, also has no inhibitory effect on the lysis of HSP72+ tumor cells. Finally, our in vitro data might have further clinical implications with respect to HSP72 as a stress-inducible, sarcoma-specific NK recognition structure.

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