Elevated carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) blood levels are found in a wide variety of epithelial neoplasms. The precise mechanism of the spontaneous CEA release from normal and cancer cells has not been established yet. In this study we investigated 'in vitro' the role of an endogenous glycosylphosphatidyl inositol phospholipase D (GPI-PLD) in spontaneous CEA release from human colon carcinoma cells. We detected GPI-PLD-specific transcript expression in four human colorectal tumor cell lines, LS180, HT29, HT29/219, and SW742 by RT-PCR. Furthermore, CEA release could be activated and inhibited by incubation of LS180 cells with suramin and 1,10-phenanthroline, compounds known to activate and inhibit GPI-PLD activity, respectively. The results suggest a mechanism for the involvement of an endogenous GPI-PLD in spontaneous CEA release from human colon cancer cells.