Murine tumors contain low molecular weight factors that inhibit macrophage accumulation at inflammatory foci. Certain oncogenic murine leukemia viruses contain similar inhibitory activity and the active component of the retroviruses was shown to be the envelope protein P15E. A number of murine malignant and nonmalignant cell lines, as well as primary tumors, have now been examined to determine whether production of retroviral P15E or a related protein is characteristic of neoplastic cells. Tumor lines examined included the Hep 129 hepatocarcinoma, BP8 fibrosarcoma, RL1 lymphoma, and three variants of the B16 melanoma. Tumor lines were virus negative by electron microscopy. Nonmalignant cells examined included ST0, 3T3/BALB, and 3T3/L1 fibroblasts and unstimulated, as well as mitogen-stimulated murine splenocytes. Cells were pulse-labeled with [35S]methionine, proteins immunoprecipitated with two monoclonal antibodies to P15E and analyzed by SDS-PAGE and gel fluorography. All tumor lines synthesized a approximately 19,000-dalton protein that co-migrated with retroviral P15E on SDS-PAGE. None of the nonmalignant cells synthesized this protein. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis of the proteins precipitated from two B16 melanoma lines by monoclonal anti-P15E showed them to be physicochemically similar to P15E from Rauscher leukemia virus. A competition ELISA assay for P15E was developed and confirmed the results obtained by metabolic labeling and demonstrated P15E-related antigens in the tumor cell lines and also in the ascites fluid of mice injected with Hep 129 cells. More importantly, P15E antigens were expressed in both a spontaneous mammary adenocarcinoma and in a primary methylcholanthrene-induced fibrosarcoma. Nonmalignant tissues from animals bearing these tumors contained no detectable P15E antigen. Extracts from the primary fibrosarcomas, when injected into the thighs of mice, inhibited the intraperitoneal accumulation of inflammatory macrophages. The inhibitory activity was specifically removed by absorption with monoclonal antibody to P15E. These results suggest that synthesis of the immunosuppressive retroviral protein P15E, or a very similar protein, routinely occurs during the growth of murine neoplastic cells. This P15E-related protein is present in spontaneous murine primary tumors as well as in all murine tumor cell lines tested. The expression of such proteins by transformed cells in vivo could confer a selective advantage for their sustained growth since they would be more likely to escape immune surveillance.

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