Occupational exposure of humans to mixtures of insoluble and soluble nickel (Ni) compounds correlates with increased incidences of lung, sinus, and pharyngeal tumors. Specific insoluble Ni compounds are carcinogenic to animals by inhalation and induce morphological and neoplastic transformation of cultured rodent cells. Our objectives were to (1) understand mechanisms of nickel ion-induced cell transformation, hence carcinogenesis and (2) develop biomarkers of nickel ion exposure and nickel ion-induced cell transformation. We isolated mRNAs from green nickel oxide (NiO), crystalline nickel monosulfide (NiS), and 3-methylcholanthrene (MCA) transformed C3H/10T1/2 Cl 8 cell lines, and determined by mRNA differential display that nine mRNA fragments were differentially expressed between Ni transformed and non-transformed 10T1/2 cell lines. Fragment R2-5 was expressed at higher steady-state levels in the transformed cell lines. R2-5 had 100% sequence identity to part of the coding region of Ect2, a mouse proto-oncogene encoding a GDP-GTP exchange factor. The 3.9-kb Ect2 transcript was expressed at 1.6- to 3.6-fold higher steady-state levels in four Ni transformed, and in two MCA-transformed, cell lines. Ect2 protein was expressed at 3.0- to 4.5-fold higher steady-state levels in Ni-transformed and in MCA-transformed cell lines. The Ect2 gene was amplified by 3.5- to 10-fold in Ni transformed, and by 2.5- to 3-fold in MCA transformed cell lines. Binding of nickel ions to enzymes of DNA synthesis likely caused amplification of the Ect2 gene. Ect2 gene amplification and over-expression of Ect2 mRNA and protein can cause microtubule disassembly and cytokinesis, contributing to induction and maintenance of morphological, anchorage-independent, and neoplastic transformation of these cell lines. Over-expression of Ect2 protein is a useful biomarker to detect exposure to nickel compounds and nickel ion-induced morphological and neoplastic cell transformation.