Thrombin-treated tumour cells enhance their adhesion to platelets, fibronectin and von Willebrand factor in vitro, and enhanced their pulmonary metastasis in mice in vivo. A unique seven transmembrane spanning thrombin receptor has recently been cloned which is activated following thrombin proteolysis of the N-terminal end of the receptor with exposure of a tethered ligand. An N-terminal 14-mer (SFLLRNPNKYEPF) or 6-mer (SFLLRN) of the tethered ligand can serve as a thrombin receptor activation peptide (TRAP) by mimicking the action of thrombin on platelets, endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells. We have examined six human tumour cell lines for their response to TRAP, for the presence of this thrombin receptor mRNA by RT-PCR, protein by immunoblot and for their in vitro and in vivo response to TRAP. All six cell lines contain the receptor mRNA, and when treated with 100 microM 6-mer TRAP or 1 u/ml thrombin increase their adhesion to platelets 2-3-fold. Four of the six cell lines undergo tyrosine phosphorylation within 30 s to 1 min after exposure to 6-mer TRAP or thrombin. Thus tumour cells respond to thrombin via activation of their seven transmembrane spanning thrombin receptor.