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Autostimulatory growth factors may contribute to the ability of malignant cells to escape normal growth controls. We have previously shown that Hs0294 human malignant melanoma cells release into culture medium an acid-soluble, heat-stable, trypsin-sensitive, autostimulatory monolayer mitogen which can be purified from acetic acid extracts of conditioned medium by gel filtration, reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography, and preparative electrophoresis. The majority of this melanoma growth-stimulatory activity (MGSA) resides in a 16-Kd moiety, though bioactivity is also associated with 24-26 and less than 14-Kd forms of MGSA (Richmond and Thomas: J Cell Physiol 129:375, 1986). In order to further characterize this growth factor, monoclonal antibodies were prepared against a partially purified preparation of the autostimulatory melanoma mitogen. Monoclonal antibody clones were selected based on supernate inhibition of 3H-thymidine incorporation in serum-free Hs0294 melanoma cultures. One of these, termed FB2AH7, slows, but does not completely block, the growth of Hs0294 cells in serum-free medium in a dose-dependent manner. This antibody does not slow the growth of normal rat kidney fibroblasts, which neither produce nor require this mitogen, in either serum-free medium or medium containing 0.8% calf serum. This monoclonal antibody also blocks the mitogenic effects of partially purified preparations of this melanoma growth stimulatory activity (MGSA) on both Hs0294 cells and normal rat kidney fibroblasts. The FB2AH7 antibody has been demonstrated to bind MGSA by Western blot and by immunoprecipitation procedures. Western blot analysis of reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography purified growth factor demonstrated that FB2AH7 antibody binds to the 16-Kd and approximately 13-14-Kd forms of MGSA. FB2AH7 antibody can be used in immunoprecipitation experiments to bind the approximately 13-16-Kd forms of MGSA. The specificity of the binding of FB2AH7 antibody for MGSA but not other growth factors has been demonstrated in a modified dot blot assay. These data thus support the hypothesis that MGSA is an autostimulatory melanoma mitogen distinct from other growth factors.