Laboratory of Experimental Pathology, National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS), Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709, USA.
Spontaneously occurring and chemically induced pheochromocytomas are rare in mice. That the mouse pheochromocytoma is a more appropriate animal model than that of the rat for study of human medullary adrenal tumors has been suggested. The expression of phenylethanolamine-N-methyltransferase (PNMT), the enzyme responsible for production of epinephrine from norepinephrine, is common to both mouse and human pheochromocytomas. This investigation assessed the expression of the immunohistochemical markers PNMT, tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), and chromogranin A (CGA) in spontaneously occurring and chemically induced pheochromocytomas in the B6C3F1 mouse. Spontaneous tumors were derived from control animals from 10 different studies and the pheochromocytomas from treated groups from 4 different studies. All tumors were positive for maximal TH expression. A highly significant difference in PNMT expression (p < 0.01) occurred between spontaneously occurring pheochromocytomas classified as benign or "malignant" by the criteria of toxicologic pathology. Chemically induced tumors showed intermediate PNMT staining. A marked reduction in CGA expression occurred in pheochromocytomas induced by technical grade pentachlorophenol, compared to the other three chemicals and the spontaneously occurring tumors. These findings suggest that immunohistochemistry is a reliable tool in investigating the functional capabilities of pheochromocytomas in mice. PNMT expression is a tightly regulated component of the chromaffin cell phenotype and appears to be readily lost in mouse pheochromocytomas, particularly those with aggressive characteristics.