The expression of MHC class II molecules by human mast cells has been reported in immunohistochemical surveys of inflammatory conditions, such as in tuberculin hypersensitivity. While these data suggest that human mast cells may act as antigen-presenting cells under inflammatory conditions, the induction of class II antigens on human mast cells has not been examined. In this study, we determined the effects of the inflammatory cytokines IFN-γ and IL-4 on the expression of class II antigens HLA-DR, -DP, and -DQ by the human mast cell line HMC-1. HMC-1 cells were incubated with or without 1000 U/ml recombinant human IFN-γ (rhIFN-γ) and IL-4 (rhIL-4) for 72 hr and analyzed for expression of MHC class II antigens by direct immunofluorescence and flow cytometry. HMC-1 cells expressed significant levels of HLA-DR and moderate levels of HLA-DP and -DQ at baseline and when cultured without exogenous cytokines. Stimulation by rhIFN-γ for 72 hr significantly increased the levels of HLA-DR and -DP expression but did not affect levels of HLA-DQ. Stimulation by rhIL-4 for 72 hr had minimal effect on expression of class II molecules, but induced a significant difference in levels of ICAM-1 (CD54) expression, indicating that this cytokine is involved instead in the control of certain accessory molecules. Our data showing constitutive expression of MHC class II molecules on HMC-1 cells and upregulation of that expression by rhIFN-γ suggest that human mast cells function as antigen- presenting cells at sites where inflammatory cytokines are present.
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