An inverse correlation exists between expression of the inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) gene and the ability of cloned K1735 murine melanoma cell lines to metastasize. We have analyzed the basis for the difference in iNOS induction by interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in metastatic and non-metastatic K1735 cells. Nuclear run-on (NRO) assays revealed an upregulation of iNOS transcription on treatment with IFN-gamma plus LPS in nonmetastatic cells but not in a metastatic line. Transcription factors IFN regulatory factor 1 (IRF-1) and NF-kappaB were induced and functional in both metastatic and nonmetastatic K1735 lines treated with IFN-gamma plus LPS. Furthermore, a reporter construct driven by the wild-type iNOS promoter was transcriptionally activated in both nonmetastatic and metastatic cells. The iNOS-inducible phenotype was dominant in somatic cell hybrids generated by the fusion of nonmetastatic and metastatic cells, suggesting that no inhibitors of iNOS expression are present in metastatic cells. We conclude that the selective block in iNOS transcription in metastatic K1735 cells is likely due to an alteration in iNOS gene regulatory sequences. However, no such alteration was detected within the 1.7 kb iNOS promoter region in metastatic cells.