Based on the hypothesis that adhesion molecules expressed on the surface of glioma cells mediate brain invasion, we examined the effect of CD24 on growth and migration of gliomas in vitro and in vivo. CD24, a glycosylphosphatidylinositol anchored, highly glycosylated adhesion molecule, is expressed in hematopoietic and neural cells. We found immunohistochemical expression of CD24 in human glioblastomas. We then established a clone from C6 rat glioblastoma cells, where mouse CD24 (also called heat stable antigen) is under control of a tetracycline-responsive promoter. In the presence of tetracycline (1 microg/ml) CD24 was downregulated by 20-fold. In vitro migration assays were performed on a basement membrane preparation (matrigel) and on myelin, the main substrates of in vivo glioma migration. While the cells were more motile on matrigel as compared with myelin, no relation between CD24 expression and motility was observed. We then transplanted the C6 clone into the striatum of nude mice and regulated CD24 expression via tetracycline in the drinking water (1 mg/ml). After 3 weeks, CD24 positive tumors of mice getting no tetracycline showed diffuse invasion of tumor cells in a brain area 10-fold larger than in CD24-suppressed tumors of mice receiving tetracycline. These data show that CD24 stimulates migration of gliomas in vivo and they suggest a role for this adhesion molecule in diffuse brain invasion of human gliomas.