Tumor progression is frequently associated with changes in responsiveness of tumor cells to paracrine growth factors. A potential major source of such paracrine factors in solid tumors are endothelial cells since this type of cell can constitute a sizeable fraction of the cellular composition of solid tumors. As an initial step to examining the possible effects of endothelial cell-associated growth factors on tumor cell growth, a panel of human melanoma cell lines representative of different stages of tumor progression was employed for studies utilizing endothelial cell-derived growth modulators. Macrovascular or microvascular human endothelial cells from umbilical vein or from skin, respectively, inhibited melanoma cell growth in direct coculture experiments. The potency of this inhibitory effect diminished as a function of melanoma progression. Conditioned media from endothelial cell cultures mimicked the effect of the cell coculture experiments, suggesting the involvement of soluble growth factor(s). Approximately 50–75% of the conditioned media inhibitory effect was abrogated by addition of the neutralizing antibody to interleukin-6 (IL-6). Gel filtration chromatography revealed the presence of additional inhibitors in endothelial cell conditioned medium. Two peaks of activity were detected with apparent molecular weights of approximately 100–150 Kd and 20–30 Kd, the latter containing IL-6 activity. Whereas early-stage radial growth phase (RGP) primary tumor-derived melanoma cells were sensitive to at least three different endothelial products of high or low molecular weight (including IL-6), melanoma cells from more advanced metastatic lesions were resistant to the latter activities, and retained only partial sensitivity to the high molecular weight inhibitor. More advanced vertical growth phase (VGP) primary melanoma cell lines expressed intermediate inhibition-sensitive phenotypes. Thus human melanoma development appears to be associated with progressive loss of sensitivity to the growth inhibitory effects of IL-6 and other factors produced by endothelial cells. This is likely to be a result of a selection process when tumor cells are confronted with adjacent vasculature during the progress of tumor angiogenesis. © 1994 wiley-Liss, Inc.