MAGE antigens are proteins that are normally expressed only in gametes but are often aberrantly expressed in melanomas, hematopoietic malignancies, and other "cancers". The functions of most MAGE proteins are unknown. Data have accumulated suggesting expression of MAGE proteins by malignant cells may contribute to advanced disease or resistance to chemotherapy, but direct evidence supporting this hypothesis is lacking. We show here that small interfering RNA (siRNA) suppression of MAGE-A, -B, and -C gene expression slows proliferation and induces caspase independent apoptosis in human and murine mast cell lines. Furthermore, treatment with MAGE specific siRNA suppresses growth of malignant cells in an in vivo murine model of mastocytosis. These observations demonstrate that MAGE protein expression can contribute to the development of tumors by permitting proliferation and prolonging the survival of malignant cells. We suggest a shift of the current clinical paradigm from one that envisions MAGE proteins solely as targets for immunologic attack to one in which MAGE genes and proteins are also targets for functional manipulation.