An animal model for human colon cancer metastasis is described in which spontaneously metastasizing colonic tumors are formed after injection of human colon cancer cells into the cecal wall of young athymic nude mice. Lymphatic and vascular invasion were demonstrated histologically after injection of both well- and poorly-differentiated cell lines, and metastases were found in a pattern similar to that of naturally occurring human colonic cancer. In contrast, little or no visceral organ involvement could be demonstrated after s.c. injection. Cells with increased liver-metastasizing potential were obtained by serial selection in this system. These cells had an enhanced ability to penetrate a reconstituted basement membrane in the presence of partially purified liver extract when compared to lung or brain extracts in a modified Boyden chamber assay. These results demonstrate the ability of human epithelial tumor cells to metastasize reproducibly in an animal model system, which may be useful for studying many aspects of the pathogenesis of cancer metastasis. In addition, it is suggested that local invasion by colon cancer cells may be influenced in part by tissue-specific factors.