We examined the basis of the all or none difference in inducing melanocytic tumor development among three transgenic mouse lines (304, 192 and 242) to which the same promoter-enhancer (metallothionein-I) and oncogene (ret) were introduced. We initially demonstrated that both skin melanosis and Ret protein expression in skin, thymus and brain first became detectable before or immediately after birth in the mice of the tumor developing lines (304 and 192), whereas they became detectable a few days after birth in the mice of the non-tumor developing line (242) by Western blotting and immunohistochemical analysis. Interestingly, the Ret protein expression in skin developed rapidly after birth as a burst with peak levels on 0.5-1.5 day newborns of lines 304 and 192 and on 7.0-7.5 day-old mice of line 242. The levels of autophosphorylation of Ret kinase in skin were, however, invariable among these three transgenic mouse lines. The mice of line 242, but not those of lines 192 and 304, responded to Ret protein immunization by increased antigen-dependent lymphocyte proliferation and T-cell-mediated tumor growth suppression in vitro. Furthermore, ret-transgenic mice of line 242, but not line 304, rejected the subcutaneously transplanted tumors that had originally developed in a mouse of line 304. These results suggest that whether oncogene product-specific-tolerance is established or not to antitumor immunity may be decided by the dynamics of ret oncogene expression before and after delivery and this is the primary factor determining development or non-development of melanoma.
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