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Cutaneous mast cell tumours (MCTs) are the most common skin tumours in dogs. However, the molecular differences between benign tumours with a good prognosis and highly malignant, invasive and metastatic tumours with short survival times are for the most part unclear. In the present study the proteome of low-grade MCTs with a good prognosis was compared with that of poor-prognosis high-grade tumours independent of their mutational status of exon 11 of the KIT gene. Using two-dimensional difference gel electrophoresis and mass spectrometry, 13 proteins with a significant differential expression between the two groups were identified. Four stress response proteins (HSPA9, PDIA3, TCP1A and TCP1E) were significantly up-regulated in high-grade tumours, while proteins mainly associated with cell motility and metastasis had either increased (WDR1, ACTR3, ANXA6) or decreased (ANXA2, ACTB) expression levels. High-grade tumours also had a paradox down-regulation of transferrin, a protein that is usually up-regulated in neoplastic cells. The histologically observable dedifferentiation of high-grade tumours was reflected by decreased tryptase protein expression levels. Results of quantitative real-time RT-PCR analysis indicated that the differences in protein expression levels of most proteins were regulated at the transcript level. Based on these findings, it is hypothesized that high-grade MCT cells have a higher resistance to cellular stress and thus are able to better cope with the adverse environment in highly proliferating tumours independent of increased KIT signalling. It is noteworthy that some of the proteins identified have been proposed as therapeutic targets for human oncology and it will be interesting to evaluate their therapeutic and diagnostic potential for canine MCTs.