Human lung adenocarcinoma sub-cell lines HAL-8, HAL-24 and HAL-33, showing different lung colonization potential (LCP), were established from human lung adenocarcinoma cell line KUM-LK-2 using repeated cloning with limiting dilution technique. Cell lines HAL-8 and -33 were characterized by high and low LCP, respectively, while HAL-24 did not give rise to lung colonies. The cell surface protein and carbohydrate profiles were determined by cell surface labeling (with lactoperoxidase-dependent 125I-iodination and galactose oxidase-NaB3H4, respectively) followed by SDS-gel electrophoresis. Various carbohydrate epitopes expressed at the cell surface were analysed by cytofluorometry using various monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) directed to Le(x), sialosyl-Le(x), sialosyl dimeric Le(x), T, Tn and sialosyl-Tn structures, which are often reported as being highly expressed in a variety of human cancers, particularly adenocarcinoma. Expression of sialosyl dimeric Le(x) (defined by MAb FH6) was high on HAL-8, moderate on HAL-33, and relatively low on HAL-24. In contrast, each of the three lines showed essentially equal expression (as determined by MAb reactivity) of sialosyl-Tn (defined by MAb TKH2), Le(x) (defined by MAb SH1), and Tn (defined by MAb 1E3). The cell lines showed extremely weak expression of T (defined by MAb HH8). LCP of HAL-8 and -33 was completely inhibited by sialidase treatment of cells. It is suggested that higher expression of sialosyl dimeric Le(x) (defined by MAb FH6) in HAL-8 cells may play an important role in higher potential of blood-borne lung colonization.