- Human papillomavirus-induced cervical carcinomas often show impaired expression of MHC class I molecules resulting in the inability of tumor cells to directly present viral peptides to cytotoxic T lymphocytes. Loss of MHC class I expression combined with the expression of activating NK cell receptor ligands renders tumor cells potentially susceptible to NK cell attack. Thus, in this study, we analyzed the expression of activating NK cell receptor ligands, NK cell accumulation and activation status in situ in normal ectocervical tissue (NCT), cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and squamous cervical carcinoma (CxCa). We observed that expression of the DNAM-1 ligand CD155 was frequently upregulated in CxCa, but not in CIN. The NKG2D ligand MICA was upregulated in fewer CxCa biopsies. In contrast, another NKG2D ligand ULBP2 was preferentially expressed in differentiated epithelial cells of NCT. Increased numbers of NK cells were detected in CIN as compared to NCT and CxCa. Expression of activating NK cell receptor ligands combined with loss of MHC class I was not correlated with enhanced NK cell accumulation or activation status. Furthermore, we demonstrate that cervical cancer cell lines are killed by the NK cell line, NKL, in a NKG2D- and DNAM-1-dependent manner in vitro. Since a significant number of CxCa biopsies showed low MHC class I expression combined with high expression of one or more of the tested activating NK cell receptor ligands, we conclude that CxCa might be a promising target for NK cell-based adoptive immunotherapy. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.