Malignant cutaneous melanomas and metastases were taken directly from in situ lesions of genetically identical (C57BL/6 strain) Tyr-SV40E transgenic mice, and samples were analyzed by Western immunoblotting with antisera specific for the COOH terminus of each of four melanocytic proteins. These were tyrosinase, TRP-1, TRP-2, and Pmel 17/silver. Of the 13 melanomas examined, there were 5 melanotic primary tumors, 5 amelanotic primary tumors, and 3 amelanotic metastases. The melanotic tumors expressed all of the markers to some extent. In contrast, the amelanotic tumors lacked detectable levels of one, two, or three of the proteins, except for an apparently amelanotic tumor sample in which all were expressed, but in which some melanotic cells were likely to have been present. Thus, despite some variability, there is clearly a downward trend in the presence of these proteins as the tumors become amelanotic, a pigmentary change associated with ongoing malignant progression. In the amelanotic tumors, tyrosinase was most often deficient, whereas TRP-2 was most often persistently expressed. These results, obtained from melanomas of syngeneic origin, indicate that tumors in the relatively early stages of malignancy might be more responsive than later-stage tumors to immunotherapy involving an ensemble of antigenic peptides of the tested gene products. Moreover, TRP-2 peptides may be especially useful for therapeutic intervention at the later stages.