We use a sensitive biotin polarity assay to survey the surface distribution of glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchored proteins in five model epithelial cell lines derived from different species (dog, pig, man) and tissues, i.e., kidney (MDCK I, MDCK II, LLC-PK1) and intestine (Caco-2 and SK-CO15). After biotinylation of apical or basolateral surfaces of confluent monolayers grown on polycarbonate filters, GPI-anchored proteins are identified by their shift from a Triton X-114 detergent-rich phase to a detergent-poor phase in the presence of phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C. All GPI-anchored proteins detected (3-9 per cell type, at least 13 different proteins) are found to be apically polarized; no GPI-anchored protein is observed preferentially localized to the basal surface. One of the GPI-anchored proteins is identified as carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). Survey of MDCK II-RCAr, a mutant cell line with a pleiotropic defect in galactosylation of glycoproteins and glycolipids (that presumably affects GPI anchors) also reveals an apical polarization of all GPI-anchored proteins. In contrast, analysis of MDCK II-ConAr (a mutant cell line with an unknown defect in glycosylation) revealed five GPI-anchored proteins, two of which appeared relatively unpolarized. Our results indicate that the polarized apical distribution of GPI-anchored proteins is highly conserved across species and tissue-type and may depend on glycosylation.