Human colon carcinomas (HCC) are heterogeneous for a variety of biological properties that include invasion and metastasis. The presence of a small subpopulation of cells with a highly metastatic phenotype has important clinical implications for diagnosis and therapy of cancer. For this reason, it is important to develop animal models for the selection and isolation of metastatic variants from human colon cancers and for testing the metastatic potential of these cells. We have implanted cells from more than 100 HCC (obtained from surgical specimens) into different organs of nude mice. Regardless of their malignant potential in the patient, the HCC did not metastasize unless they were implanted orthotopically. Only when they were injected into the cecum or spleen of nude mice did they yield hepatic metastases. These metastases consisted of highly metastatic cells. The invasive phenotype was influenced by the organ environment. HCC cells in the subcutis did not produce degradative enzymes and the cells did not metastasize. In contrast, HCC cells in the cecum did both. Collectively, the results demonstrate that the orthotopic implantation of HCC cells can yield metastatic subpopulations of cells suitable for the study of metastasis.