Given the associations between chronic inflammation and epithelial cancer1,2 we studied susceptibility to skin carcinogenesis3,4 in mice deficient for the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF-α (refs. 5,6). TNF-α–/– mice were resistant to development of benign and malignant skin tumors, whether induced by initiation with DMBA and promotion with TPA or by repeated dosing with DMBA. TNF-α–/– mice developed 5–10% the number of tumors developed by wild-type mice during initiation/promotion and 25% of those in wild-type mice after repeated carcinogen treatment. TNF-α could influence tumor and stromal cells during tumor development. The early stages of TPA promotion are characterized by keratinocyte hyperproliferation and inflammation. These were diminished in TNF-α–/– mice. TNF-α was extensively induced in the epidermis, but not the dermis, in TPA-treated wild-type skin, indicating that dermal inflammation is controlled by keratinocyte TNF-α production. Deletion of a TNF-α inducible chemokine also conferred some resistance to skin tumor development. TNF-α has little influence on later stages of carcinogenesis, as tumors in wild-type and TNF-α–/– mice had similar rates of malignant progression. These data provide evidence that a pro-inflammatory cytokine is required for de novo carcinogenesis and that TNF-α is important to the early stages of tumor promotion. Strategies that neutralize TNF-α production may be useful in cancer treatment and prevention.
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The authors thank M. Coombs, M. Owen and F. Watt for advice; G. Elia for technical assistance with histopathology; and M. Bradburn for the statistical analysis.
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