Retroviruses are believed to induce tumors by acting as insertional mutagens that activate expression of cellular protooncogenes. Indeed, almost 90% of mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV)-induced mammary tumors in C3H/He mice show upregulation of Int protooncogenes. We have analyzed three different MMTV variants [MMTV(C3H), MMTV(HeJ), and a genetically engineered MMTV hybrid provirus (HP)] for tumorigenicity in mice from two distinct genetic backgrounds. All three viruses were tumor causing in BALB/cJ mice. However, only MMTV(C3H), but not MMTV(HeJ) or HP, induced mammary tumors in C3H/He mice. All of the viruses were infectious on either background and up-regulated expression of Int genes in tumors they induced. Like HP, MMTV(HeJ) was found to be a genetic recombinant between endogenous Mtv1 provirus and exogenous MMTV(C3H). Sequence comparison of MMTV variants linked the tumorigenicity of MMTV(C3H) to the gag region of the retrovirus.
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