We have shown previously that the ras and myc oncogenes can induce poorly differentiated mouse prostate carcinomas in vivo with high frequency (greater than 90%) using inbred C57BL/6 mice in the mouse prostate reconstitution model system. To study the androgen sensitivity of these carcinomas, we have developed an in vitro model system which includes a cell line from normal urogenital sinus epithelium (CUGE) and cell lines from three ras + myc transformed mouse prostate carcinomas (RM-9, RM-1, and RM-2). CUGE cells, as well as all prostate carcinoma cell lines, were positive for cytokeratin 18 mRNA and immunoreactive to cytokeratin-specific antiserum. Two out of three of the early passage carcinoma cell lines were clonal with respect to Zipras/myc 9 retrovirus integration as determined by Southern blot analysis. Whereas significant mitogenic effects of testosterone (10 nM) were not seen in CUGE cells grown in serum-free medium, under similar conditions approx. 2-fold increases in cell number were seen in all low passage prostate carcinoma cell lines. Also, in the presence of growth inhibitory levels of suramin (50 micrograms/ml), testosterone was capable of significant growth stimulation in the carcinoma cell lines. With further propagation from low passage [20-25 population doublings (PD)] to high passage (75-100 PD), all carcinoma cell lines demonstrated increased and similar growth rate in the presence and absence of testosterone. These cell lines maintained stable androgen receptor numbers and binding kinetics during the transition from testosterone-responsive growth to reduced responsivity over multiple passages in culture (> 150 PD). Overall, our studies indicate that the capacity to bind testosterone is stably maintained through the transition of the androgen-sensitive to insensitive phenotype and raise the possibility that androgen sensitivity can persist throughout progression but is masked by the acquisition of autocrine pathways.