While it is generally agreed that environmental exposure to solar radiation and to certain classes of chemicals are the major causes of nonmelanoma skin cancer, it is also believed that genetic polymorphisms regulating immunological responses are important determinants of individual susceptibility to skin cancer. However, little is known about their interactions with the chemical carcinogenesis pathway prior to the actual development of tumors. This issue was examined by comparing susceptibility to skin cancer in C3H/HeN and C3H/HeJ mice, two strains that differ only at the lipopolysaccharide genetic locus, which serves as a regulator of a number of immunological activities. When subjected to a two-stage cutaneous tumorigenesis protocol, C3H/ HeJ mice, which have a mutation at the lipopolysaccharide genetic locus that renders them deficient in their capacity to produce cytokines and to activate macrophages, developed nearly three times as many tumors as did C3H/HeN mice, which do not have this mutation. Epidermal DNA binding of 7,12-[3H]dimethylbenz(a)anthracene, an index of tumor initiation, was also significantly greater in C3H/HeJ than in C3H/HeN mice. Immunological activities regulated by the lipopolysaccharide genetic locus thus confer resistance to DMBA-induced cutaneous tumorigenesis in mice and are associated with changes that occur early in the tumorigenesis pathway, prior to the development of tumors. © 1992, American Association for Cancer Research. All rights reserved.