c-erbB2/neu is a transforming oncogene that encodes a 185-kDa transmembrane glycoprotein. In many but not all studies, amplification and/or overexpression of the human c-erbB2/neu oncogene has been correlated with poor prognosis and the number of lymph node metastases in node-positive breast cancer patients. We have shown that expression of the activated rat c-erbB2/neu oncogene in mouse embryo fibroblast 3T3 cells is sufficient to induce experimental metastases in nude mice. Important steps in the metastatic event are tumor cell adhesion to endothelial cells and invasion of basement membranes. Therefore, we further examined the ability of c-erbB2/neu oncogene-transformed 3T3 cells to adhere to microvessel endothelial cells and secrete basement membrane-degradative enzymes. The c-erbB2/neu oncogene-transformed 3T3 cells were shown to be more adherent and have higher gelatinase activities. Since we had previously shown that the adenovirus 5 E1A gene product can suppress c-erbB2/neu-induced transformation of 3T3 cells, we examined the possibility that E1A can abrogate the metastatic properties of c-erbB2/neu-transformed 3T3 cells. We found that introduction of the E1A gene into c-erbB2/neu-transformed 3T3 cells reduced the formation of experimental metastatic tumors and inhibited metastasis-associated properties, such as adhesion to microvessel endothelial cells, migration through a layer of reconstituted basement membrane (Matrigel) and secretion of basement membrane-degradative enzymes. The results indicate that the mechanism by which the c-erbB2/neu gene induces higher metastatic potential is to promote adhesion and invasion steps of the metastatic cascade. The E1A gene, which functions by inhibiting these steps, is thus a suppressor gene for c-erbB2/neu-induced experimental metastasis.