Constitutive expression of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), a common characteristic of metastatic melanomas, was reproduced in vitro by infection of normal murine melanocytes with a recombinant retrovirus carrying a cDNA for bFGF. Expression of bFGF in these cells conferred autonomous growth in culture and extinguished differentiated functions, such as the synthesis of melanin and formation of dendrites. Independence from exogenous bFGF and loss of differentiated functions in vitro were induced also by transformation of melanocytes with the oncogenes myc, Ela, ras, and neu, although bFGF was not expressed by the respective transformants. As shown in skin reconstitution experiments onto syngeneic mice and subcutaneous injections into nude mice, the various transformants differed in their behavior in vivo. The bFGF transformants did not form tumors. They reverted to having a normal, melanotic phenotype and restricted growth. Myc and Ela transformants grew as tumors in nude mice but not in syngeneic, immunocompetent animals. Ras-transformed melanocytes were always tumorigenic, whereas the formation of tumors by neu transformants was suppressed by the concomitant grafting of keratinocytes in reconstituted skin of syngeneic mice. These data show that melanocytes genetically manipulated to produce bFGF acquire properties in vitro similar to those of metastatic melanoma cells or those induced by various oncogenes but that constitutive production of bFGF by itself is insufficient to make melanocytes tumorigenic. The experiments also show that melanocytes transformed by the selected oncogenes respond differentially to various environments in vivo.

This content is only available as a PDF.