The classical transplantation antigens (the major histocompatibility complex class I antigens) play a key role in host defense against cells expressing foreign antigens. Several naturally occurring tumors and virally transformed cells show an overall suppression of these surface antigens. Since the class I molecules are required in the presentation of neoantigens on tumor cells to the cytotoxic T lymphocytes, their absence from the cell surface may lead to the escape of these tumors from immunosurveillance. To test this possibility, a functional class I gene was transfected into human adenovirus 12-transformed mouse cells that do not express detectable levels of class I antigens; the transformants were tested for expression of the transfected gene and for changes in oncogenicity. The expression of a single class I gene, introduced by DNA-mediated gene transfer into highly tumorigenic adenovirus 12-transformed cells, was sufficient to abrogate the oncogenicity of these cells. This finding has important implications for the regulation of the malignant phenotype in certain tumors and for the potential modulation of oncogenicity through derepression of the endogenous class I genes.