Spontaneous melanoma formation in nonhybrid Xiphophorus

A Schartl, B Malitschek, S Kazianis, R Borowsky, M Schartl
Cancer Research 1995 January 1, 55 (1): 159-65
Melanoma in hybrids of Xiphophorus is due to the unrestricted activity of a cellular oncogene locus, Tu, encoding the growth factor receptor gene Xmrk. In nonhybrid parental fish, Tu is controlled by a tumor suppressor gene. Thus, its restricted activity leads there only to a nonmalignant, species- and population-specific macromelanophore spot pattern. Prompted by enigmatic reports on nonhybrid Xiphophorus with pigmentation abnormalities resembling melanoma, we have studied pigmentation in descendants of wild-caught fish and purebred laboratory stocks derived from wild populations. Whereas most stocks exhibiting macromelanophore patterns never developed pigmentation abnormalities, an exceptional situation for some nonhybrids was found. In X. variatus carrying the macromelanophore pattern "punctatus-2" and in X. cortezi with "spotted caudal," expressivity of the pigmentation gene ranges from a few black spots to extreme melanosis and eventually to malignant melanoma. In X. maculatus with the mutant pigmentation gene striped" carrying in addition the micromelanophore pattern "anal fin black" or "lower comet," testosterone-dependent melanoma develop originating from the corresponding micromelanophore pattern. The tumors are highly malignant and express a melanoma-associated antigen. Overexpression of the Xmrk oncogene appears as the underlying molecular mechanism for tumor induction. These findings clearly demonstrate that tumors can also develop in purebred wild-type fish. The classical model for formation of hereditary melanoma in Xiphophorus hybrids does not explain the development of melanoma in the absence of hybridization. However, their existence gives additional support to the reasoning that the Xmrk oncogene associated with the macromelanophore locus is potentially injurious.

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