We have developed a simple yet effective apparatus, based upon negative pressure directed to the tip of a micro-pipette, to measure the adhesiveness of single cells. The "single cell adhesion measuring apparatus" (SCAMA) could differentiate between the adhesion of strongly versus weakly metastatic cancer cells as well as normal cells. Adhesion was quantified as "detachment negative pressure" (DNP) or "DNP relative to cell size" (DNPR) where a noticeable difference in cell size was apparent. Thus, for rat and human prostate and human breast cancer cell lines, adhesiveness (DNPR values) decreased in line with increased metastatic potential. Using the SCAMA, we investigated the effect of tetrodotoxin (TTX), a specific blocker of voltage-gated Na(+) channels (VGSCs), on the adhesion of rat and human prostate cancer cell lines of markedly different metastatic potential. Following pretreatment with TTX (48 h with 1 microM), the adhesion values for the Mat-LyLu cells increased significantly 4.3-fold; there was no effect on the AT-2 cells. For the strongly metastatic PC-3M cells, TTX treatment caused a significant (approximately 30%) increase in adhesion. The adhesion of PNT2-C2 ("normal") cells was not affected by the TTX pretreatment. The TTX-induced increase in the adhesiveness of the strongly metastatic cells was consistent with the functional VGSC expression in these cells and the proposed role of VGSC activity in metastatic cell behaviour. In conclusion, the SCAMA, which can be constructed easily and cheaply, offers a simple and effective method to characterise single-cell adhesion and its modulation.