Secreted phosphoprotein I (SPP), also known as 2ar, osteopontin, 44-kDa bone phosphoprotein, bone sialoprotein I, and transformation-related phosphoprotein, is a 41.5-kDa glycosylated phosphoprotein secreted by many mammalian cell lines and expressed in a limited set of tissues. Using a cDNA probe, we found that SPP mRNA, which is barely detectable in normal mouse epidermis, was expressed at moderate-to-high levels in 2 of 3 epidermal papillomas and at consistently high levels in 7 of 7 squamous-cell carcinomas induced by an initiation-promotion regimen. This contrasts with the transient induction we had previously observed after a single application of the tumor promoter 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA). In a set of 5 independently isolated T24-H-ras-transfected mouse C3H 10T1/2 cell lines, the levels of SPP mRNA correlated well with ras mRNA levels and with both experimental and spontaneous metastatic ability. SPP mRNA expression was also elevated in a derivative of mouse LTA cells transfected with genomic DNA from B16F1 melanoma cells and selected for increased experimental metastatic ability in the chick embryo. This apparent association of SPP expression with invasion, progression and metastasis, along with the presence of a functional ArgGlyAsp (RGD) cell adhesion site in SPP (osteopontin), leads us to propose that SPP may act as an autocrine adhesion factor for tumor cells.