Background:  Lifetime risk for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the skin is 1:30. Risk in organ-transplant recipients (OTR) is increased over 60-fold through long-term drug-induced immunosuppression. MAGE family-derived peptides are cancer/testis antigens recognized by specific CD8+ T cells and employed for immunotherapy. We were interested in the frequency and distribution of MAGE-A4 in epithelial skin tumors of OTR and immunocompetent patients.

Methods:  mAb 57B predominantly recognizing MAGE-A4 was used to stain 119 formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded epithelial skin tumors (actinic keratosis, bowenoid actinic keratosis, Bowen’s disease, and SCC; n = 17, 25, 61, 16, respectively) in immunocompetent patients (n = 84) and OTR (n = 35).

Results:  All four epithelial skin tumors showed comparable immunoreactivity ranging from (25–71%, p = 0.361). Scattered immunoexpression pattern was more frequent in OTR (p = 0.025). SCC showed polarized immunoreactivity basally (p = 0.002).

Conclusion:  MAGE-A4 was expressed in a large part of epithelial skin tumors with predominantly scattered immunoexpression pattern in OTR. The difference in immunoexpression pattern for immune status was limited, suggesting important non-immunosuppressor-mediated mechanisms for increased skin carcinogenesis in OTR. mAb 57B may be a helpful tool for immunohistochemistry and micrographic surgery using formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue.