The expression of small intestinal hydrolases associated with the enterocyte brush border membrane was studied in human colon cancers and foetal colons, by means of monoclonal antibodies against human small intestinal sucrase-isomaltase (SI), maltase-glucoamylase (MGA), lactase (L), aminopeptidase N (APN), and dipeptidylpeptidase IV (DPP-IV). The enzymes were visualized by indirect immunofluorescence on cryostat sections of tumors developed in nude mice with 6 human colon carcinoma cell lines (HT-29, Caco-2, SW-480, HRT-18, HCT-8R, and Co-115), of 27 primary colorectal carcinomas from patients, and of human foetal (16 to 20 weeks of gestation) and normal adult small intestines and colons. All 5 monoclonals bound to the brush border of the adult small intestine, but not to that of the adult colon mucosa. Antibodies against SI, APN and DPP-IV also bound to the brush border of the foetal colons, to apical borders in HT-29 and Caco-2 tumors in nude mice, and to brush border-like structures in 7/27 tumors from patients. No binding was observed for MGA and L in either tumors or foetal colons. Binding of anti-SI antibodies to the brush border of the juxta-tumoral mucosal epithelium was observed in 9/11 samples tested. These data indicate that some colon tumors exhibit a typical pattern of enterocytic differentiation which is of foetal type and which involves at least 3 brush border membrane hydrolases. Monoclonal antibodies to small intestinal hydrolases may, therefore, be important tools for identification and characterization of some differentiated colonic tumors.