Nitric oxide (NO) is a major effector molecule in the destruction of tumor cells by activated macrophages. However, in many cases, developing neoplasms appear to be capable of impairing steps in the complex process leading to NO production as a means of avoiding immune destruction. After activation with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), peritoneal-elicited macrophages (PEM) from mice bearing mammary tumors display alterations in their ability to lyse tumor cells due to reduced production of NO. In contrast, when these same cells are stimulated with LPS in combination with interferon gamma (IFN-gamma), they are able to produce NO and lyse targets at normal levels. Since tumor-associated macrophages are intimately associated with the cells of the developing tumor, their ability to produce NO and lyse tumor targets is likely to be more relevant to controlling tumor growth. This population of macrophages exhibited a more profound inability to produce NO and lyse targets and, unlike the PEM, was not able to upregulate these functions even when treated with combinations of LPS and IFN-gamma. Northern and Western blots revealed that inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) mRNA and protein levels correlated directly with the ability of each macrophage population to produce NO, and the levels of these macromolecules were altered sufficiently in tumor bearers' macrophages to account for the diminished NO production described. These results indicate that a spatial gradient of suppression of macrophage cytolytic activity and iNOS expression exists in mammary tumor-bearing mice, whereby macrophages from within the tumor exhibit a more pronounced suppression than the more distally located PEM. This suppression may be due to proximity of the macrophages to the developing tumor, macrophage maturational state, or both.

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