The purpose of this study was to determine whether the expression level of several genes that regulate different steps of the metastatic process correlates with the metastatic potential of human colon carcinoma cells. The mRNA expression level for epidermal growth factor receptor (growth), basic fibroblast growth factor and interleukin-8 (angiogenesis), type IV collagenase (invasion), E-cadherin and carcinoembryonic antigen (adhesion), and the multidrug resistance gene mdr-1 (drug resistance) in the human KM12 colon carcinoma cell lines and clones with different metastatic potential was measured by Northern blot analysis and by in situ hybridization technique. Highly metastatic KM12SM and KM1214 cells growing in culture uniformly expressed high levels of epidermal growth factor receptor, basic fibroblast growth factor, and carcinoembryonic antigen mRNA, whereas cultures of low metastatic KM12C, clone 1, clone 3, and clone 6 cells displayed heterogeneous patterns of expression. KM12C (low metastatic) and KM12SM (highly metastatic) cells were implanted into the subcutis (ectopic) or the wall of the cecum (orthotopic) of nude mice. The mRNA expression level for epidermal growth factor receptor, basic fibroblast growth factor, interleukin-8, type IV collagenase, carcinoembryonic antigen, and mdr-1 was increased in the cecal wall tumors as compared with subcutaneous tumors or in vitro cultures. These data demonstrate a direct correlation between constitutive and inducible expression of several metastasis-related genes and the metastatic potential of human colon carcinoma cells.