Expression of the tyrosine-kinase receptor encoded by the c-KIT proto-oncogene progressively decreases during local tumor growth and invasion of human melanomas. To provide direct evidence that c-KIT plays a role in metastasis of human melanoma, we transfected the c-KIT gene into the c-KIT negative highly metastatic human melanoma cell line A375SM and subsequently analysed its tumorigenic and metastatic potential. A375SM parental cells, A375SM-NOT (neo, control), and A375SM-KIT-positive cells were injected s.c. and i.v. into nude mice. A375SM-KIT cells produced significantly slower growing s.c. tumors and fewer lung metastases than control cells. Exposure of c-KIT-positive melanoma cells in vitro and in vivo to stem cell factor (SCF), the ligand for c-KIT, triggered apoptosis of these cells but not of c-KIT-negative melanoma cells or normal melanocytes. Since SCF is produced by keratinocytes and other dermal cells in the skin, these results suggest that the loss of c-KIT receptor expression may allow malignant melanoma cells to escape SCF/c-KIT-mediated apoptosis, hence contributing to tumor growth and eventually metastasis. The antitumor and antimetastatic properties of SCF may be useful in treating human melanomas in early stages.