Chloroethylnitrosoureas (CNUs) are being used in the therapy of various neoplastic diseases, including skin cancer. Because secondary tumor formation is a serious threat in chemotherapy with these drugs, we explored whether and to what extent the DNA repair protein DNA-O6-methylguanine:protein-l-cysteine S-methyltransferase (MGMT) protects against CNU-induced tumors. We made use of transgenic mice overexpressing human MGMT in their skin and the initiation-promotion protocol on treatment with 1-(4-amino-2-methyl-5-pyrimidinyl)methyl-3-(2-chloroethyl)-3-nitrosourea (ACNU, nimustine) that is representative of CNUs. ACNU applied topically as a single low dose to the dorsal skin was highly effective in tumor induction in nontransgenic mice, whereas in cytokeratin MGMT transgenic mice, tumor formation was remarkably reduced. ACNU-induced skin tumors harbored mutations in the c-Ha-ras gene in both groups of mice. The results provide clear evidence that MGMT exerts protection against CNU-induced cancer. Our data also indicate that O6-chloroethylguanine, which is repaired by MGMT, is a main precarcinogenic CNU-induced DNA lesion.

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Supported by Research Grants Be 1484/1-2 (to K. B.) and Ka 724/4-2 (to B. K.) from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

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