Protein tyrosine kinases have been implicated in tumor initiation and progression. Here we used Northern blotting to study expression of their genes in cultured normal melanocytes and 19 melanoma cell lines from different stages of tumor progression. We detected transcripts for 2 cytoplasmic (ABL and FES) and 6 receptor (ECK, ERB-B2, FGF-R4, IGFI-R, KDR and TIE) kinases but not for receptors RET or TRK-A. Genes for ECK, FGF-R4 and TIE were expressed ectopically in melanomas (not in normal melanocytes). Similarly, ECK protein was detected by immunoblotting in metastatic melanomas but not in normal melanocytes. ECK mRNA levels tended to increase again during late melanoma progression. ECK and TIE mRNAs were also detected in highly metastatic variant cells but not in the corresponding poorly metastatic parental lines. Conversely, FES and KDR gene expression was lost in most advanced primary and metastatic melanomas. These findings suggest positive and negative roles for specific tyrosine kinases during progression. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.