Cholangiocarcinoma is a highly-malignant adenocarcinoma originating from cholangiocytes. Current concepts support escape from immune surveillance using aberrant expression of Fas ligand (FasL) and dysregulation of receptor (FasR) signaling as a potential mechanism for tumor progression. Our aims were to determine if altered expression of FasR and FasL or changes in expression of FLICE inhibitor (I-FLICE) allow cholangiocarcinoma cells to escape immune surveillance. Human cholangiocarcinoma cell lines were evaluated for the functional expression of FasR and FasL by (1) quantitating apoptosis after incubation of cells with agonistic antibodies and (2) an in vitro cell death assay involving coculture of cholangiocarcinoma cells with Fas-sensitive thymocytes. I-FLICE antisense treatment was performed by stable transfection with complementary DNA (cDNA) for I-FLICE in the reverse orientation. We found that normal cholangiocytes in vivo express FasL. Human cholangiocarcinoma cell lines express both FasL and FasR and I-FLICE. FasL expressed by cholangiocarcinomas in vitro induced lymphocyte cell death (70% after 24 hours). Despite the expression of FasR, exposure of the cells to agonistic antibodies (500 ng/mL) induced only minimal apoptosis in the Jurkat cells. Antisense treatment of cholangiocarcinomas in vitro with I-FLICE reduced protein expression of I-FLICE by 90% to 95% and increased Fas- mediated apoptosis 2-fold. We concluded that cholangiocarcinomas escape immune surveillance either by disabling FasR signaling through the expression of I-FLICE and/or increased FasL expression to induce apoptosis of invading T cells. Reduction of I-FLICE expression in cholangiocarcinoma cells restored Fas-mediated apoptosis. Therapeutic maneuvers to inhibit expression of I- FLICE may aid in the treatment of cholangiocarcinoma.
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