Highly immunogenic "tum-" (non-tumorigenic in normal syngeneic hosts) clonal variants can be selected from a variety of poorly immunogenic and highly tumorigenic mouse cell lines at very high frequencies (e.g., greater than 80%) after treatment in vitro with chemical mutagens such as ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) or N-methyl-N'-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidine (MNNG). We herein demonstrate that the same result can be obtained with the poorly mutagenic cytidine analogue, 5-azacytidine, a strong DNA hypomethylating agent. 5-Azacytidine and EMS were equally and comparably effective, or ineffective, in inducing tum- variants from three different highly tumorigenic mouse cell lines. Like mutagen-induced tum- variants, those obtained after 5-azacytidine treatment generated usually strong cytolytic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses in vitro, and could grow in immunosuppressed (nude mouse) hosts. However, pretreatment of the tumor cell lines with 5-azacytidine did not cause significant increases in mutations at several independent drug-resistant gene loci, whereas EMS did. It is known that treatment of cells with 5-azacytidine can induce transcriptional activation of "silent" genes through a reduction of DNA 5-methylcytosine content, a process that can also be effected by mutagenic DNA alkylating agents such as EMS and MNNG. We therefore hypothesize that an "epigenetic" mechanism (DNA hypomethylation) leading to activation and expression of genes coding for potential tumor antigens is involved in the generation at high frequency of tum- variants after "mutagen" treatment. The implications of these findings to mechanisms of tumor progression and the generation of tumor heterogeneity are discussed.

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