Human melanocytes infected with Ki-MSV or Ha-MSV, but not amphotropic MuLV, undergo a series of transformation-related changes that are characteristic of malignant melanoma. These are (a) expression of Ia antigens, in particular DP, DQ, and DR class II histocompatibility gene products, (b) a transformed morphology and ability to grow in soft agar, and (c) a 5-10-fold increase in the cell surface expression of GD3 ganglioside. However, other characteristics of melanoma, such as independence from specific growth factors and loss of adenosine deaminase binding protein were not observed. We conclude that viral ras oncogenes initiate early transformation events in melanocytes, and that Ia antigen expression is a transformation marker in this system.

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