A mouse monoclonal antibody M2590, previously established after immunization of mice (C57BL/6) with syngeneic melanoma B16 cells and showing preferential reactivity with various types of melanoma over other tumor and normal cells or tissues, was shown to be directed to GM3 ganglioside. Since GM3 is widely distributed in essentially all types of animal cells, there is a conflict with the concept of a tumor-associated antigen and immunogen. Studies on the reactivity of M2590 antibody with various cells having different GM3 density at their cell surface, including cells treated with sialidase, liposomes, and solid-phase lipid layer containing different GM3 concentrations, have indicated that 1) reactivity of the antibody M2590 depends greatly on the density of GM3 exposed at the cell surface, on liposomes, or on solid phase; and 2) there is a threshold density that is recognized by the antibody in all-or-none fashion. In addition, the antibody M2590 reacts not only with GM3 but also with GM3 lactone, and the binding affinity of the antibody to GM3 lactone is strikingly higher than to GM3; however, the antibody does not react with GM3 ethyl ester. GM3 lactone was detected in melanoma as 3H-labeled GM3 gangliosidol after melanoma cells were directly treated with NaB[3H]4. A comparative immunization of BALB/c mice with GM3 and GM3 lactone showed that GM3 lactone is a much stronger immunogen than GM3, although the antibody elicited reacts with both GM3 and its lactone. Thus, the real immunogen could be GM3 lactone, although it is a minor membrane component.

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