T lymphoma induction by the mink cell focus-inducing murine leukemia virus MCF 1233 in C57BL/10 and C57BL/6 mice is influenced by a strongly Th-dependent, H-2I-A-restricted antiviral immune response (25). We compared the MHC class I as well as viral env and gag antigenic cell surface profiles of frequent T lymphomas of H-2I-A nonresponder-type mice to that of rare T lymphomas of H-2I-A responder-type mice. Membrane immunofluorescence studies, with a panel of anti-env mAbs (reactive with the highly conserved gp70f epitope, the p15Ec epitope, and the gp70-p15E complex), a polyclonal anti-p30 serum, and anti-H-2 class I mAbs, showed that all 17 nonresponder tumors tested expressed high levels of both env and gag viral proteins, and 15 of these 17 nonresponder tumors expressed high levels of H-2 class I K and D antigens. In contrast, 10 of 11 responder lymphomas lacked env and/or gag determinants. The only responder lymphoma with both strong env and gag expression failed to express H-2K and -D antigens. Preferential loss of env or gag expression did not correlate with H-2 class I allelic specificities. Both responder and nonresponder T lymphoma DNA contained multiple, predominantly MCF-like, newly acquired proviral integrations. Differences in viral antigen cell surface expression were confirmed at cytoplasmic and RNA levels. The amounts of 8.2- and 3.2-kb viral RNA were greatly reduced in two responder lymphomas when compared with four nonresponder lymphomas. In both responder lymphomas, aberrantly sized viral RNA species were found. Upon in vivo passage of these responder lymphomas in either immunocompetent or T cell-deficient nu/nu mice, it was found that various molecular mechanisms may underlie the lack of viral antigen expression at the cell surface of these lymphomas. One lymphoma re-expressed viral antigens when transplanted with nu/nu mice, whereas the other remained stably gag negative. The combined findings indicate that an H-2I-A-regulated antiviral immune response not only strongly reduces T lymphoma incidence, but also forces T lymphomas that still arise to poorly express viral antigens, thus explaining their escape from immunosurveillance.

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