The cell spreading ability of human lung cancer cells on collagen substrata was examined in comparison with normal human tracheal epithelial cells. Plastic dishes or multiwells were coated with type I, III or IV collagen gel at a concentrate of 200 micrograms/cm2. Ninety per cent of the normal cells were round on all collagens. Adenocarcinoma RERF-LC-MS and VMRC-LCD cell lines and squamous cell carcinoma VMRC-LCP cell line, which metastasize weakly after intrasplenic transplantation in nude mice, spread relatively poorly. Adenocarcinoma, A549 and SK-LU-1 and squamous cell carcinoma Calu-1 cell lines, which were highly metastatic to liver, spread well. Adenocarcinoma ABC-1 cell line, which is moderately metastatic to liver in nude mice, spread moderately. On type III collagen, three adenocarcinoma cell lines (A549, ABC-1 and VMRC-LCD) gradually started to contract after initial spreading and became round at 24 h. These results suggest that there may be a correlation between the degree of malignancy of human lung cancer cells and their spreading ability on collagen substrata, and that the cell spreading ability may be regulated by type III collagen in some lung cancer cells.