The tumor dormant state established in L5178Y immunized and challenged mice is characterized by a prolonged period of clinical normalcy followed by rapid tumor outgrowth. The tumor cells which emerged after termination of the tumor dormant state had abnormal marker chromosomes identical to those in the L5178Y cells used in the original challenge inoculum, indicating that the emergent tumor cells were progeny of the challenge inoculum. Original and emergent L5178Y cells had equivalent in vivo growth rates, when inoculated into normal DBA/2 mice. The emergent L5178Y cells were less susceptible than original cells to in vitro lysis by tumor dormant PC. Original and emergent L5178Y cells expressed common tumor-associated target antigens for cytolytic effector cells. Both modulation and masking of these target antigens were ruled out as mechanisms for decreased susceptibility to cell-mediated cytolysis. Immunofluorescence revealed heterogeneity in tumor-associated antigen expression within both original and emergent cell populations, with a decreased intensity of staining in the emergent population. Both populations were equally susceptible to lysis by alloimmune cells, alloantiserum, and anti-Thy 1.2 serum, but emergent cells were less susceptible to lysis by serum directed against L5178Y TAA. Quantitative absorption revealed that the emergent L5178Y cells expressed eightfold less serologically detectable TAA than the original cells. These findings indicate that the host immune response developing during establishment of the tumor dormant state selects a stable tumor cell subpopulation which expresses decreased amounts of surface tumor-associated target antigens.

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