The gag membrane protein gP85gag, encoded by Moloney murine leukemia virus (M-MLV), was identified as a target molecule recognized by Moloney murine sarcoma virus--M-MLV (M-MSV--M-MLV)-specific cytolytic T lymphocyte (CTL) clones. Target cells infected with Ab-X-MLV, an M-MLV-derived mutant virus not encoding gP85gag, were not lysed by the CTL clones. The same CTL clones were shown previously to induce the destruction of M-MLV-induced tumor cells in the peritoneal cavity. We have now characterized CTL-resistant antigen-loss tumor cell variants that have lost the surface antigen, but which retain transcriptionally silent M-MLV genomes. A cloned antigen-loss variant that reverted in vitro to the CTL-susceptible phenotype reexpressed M-MLV genomes that had undergone an insertion event in the region of the viral DNA coding for the gag membrane protein. Intravenous injection of virus-specific CTL clones inhibited tumor formation in mice injected subcutaneously with M-MSV--M-MLV.

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