The activated neu (HER2/c-erbB-2) oncogene is extremely potent in inducing mammary cancer. For example, neu induces greater than 200 times as many tumors as the activated ras oncogene when directly introduced into in situ rat mammary epithelial cells using replication-defective retroviral vectors. In order to characterize mechanisms underlying this potency, we sought to identify uniquely overexpressed genes in neu-initiated tumors that were not overexpressed in tumors induced by weaker initiating agents, including activated ras and the chemical carcinogens dimethylbenz[a]anthracene and N-nitroso-N-methylurea. Several genes, including those encoding keratin K7 and the u haplotype of MHC class I RT1-A, were found to be overexpressed in neu-initiated carcinomas as well as in mammary carcinomas induced by other agents, when compared to their expression in normal mammary tissue. One gene, however, encoding a member of the lipocalin and calycin protein families, was 12-fold overexpressed in neu mammary tumors and was not overexpressed in ras or chemically induced carcinomas. This uniquely overexpressed gene was termed neu-related lipocalin (NRL). NRL protein was produced in a baculovirus system, purified and used to generate polyclonal antibodies. Western blot analysis indicate that neu-initiated mammary carcinomas express abundant NRL protein when compared to other mammary tumors.