Tumor-promoting phorbol esters, like growth factors, elicit pleiotropic responses involving biochemical pathways that lead to different biological responses. Genetic variant cell lines that are resistant to mitogenic, differentiation, or transformation responses to tumor promoters have been valuable tools for understanding the molecular bases of these responses. Studies using the mouse epidermal JB6 cell lines that are sensitive or resistant to tumor promoter-induced transformation have yielded new understanding of genetic and signal transduction events involved in neoplastic transformation. The isolation and characterization of cloned mouse promotion sensitivity genes pro-1 and pro-2 is reviewed. A new activity of pro-1 has been identified: when transfected into human cancer prone basal cell nevus syndrome fibroblasts but not normal fibroblasts mouse pro-1 confers lifespan extension on these cells. Recently, we have found that a pro-1 homolog from a library of nasopharyngeal carcinoma, but not the homolog from a normal human library, is activated for transferring promotion sensitivity. The many genetic variants for responses to tumor promoters have also proved valuable for signal transduction studies. JB6 P- cells fail to show the 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA)-induced synthesis of two proteins of 15 and 16 kD seen in P+ cells. P-, P+, and TPA transformed cells show a progressive decrease in both basal and TPA-inducible levels of a protein kinase C substrate of 80 kD. P- cells are relatively resistant both to anchorage-independent transformation and to a protein band shift induced by the calcium analog lanthanum. It appears that one or more calcium-binding proteins and one or more pro genes may be critical determinants of tumor promoter-induced neoplastic transformation.