Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) binds to an 80-kDa cell surface receptor on Kupffer cells via the peptide sequence PELPK (residues 108-112) located at the hinge region between the N and Al immunoglobulin-like domains. This study is aimed at analyzing the specificity of the peptide binding, determining biodistribution of 80-kDa receptor, and processing of CEA by this receptor. We synthesized a number of bovine serum albumin (BSA) derivatives carrying PELPK and related sequences. A series of peptides (YPELPK, YPDLPK, YPDLPR, and YPELGK) were conjugated to bovine serum albumin using N-hydroxysuccinimidyl-4-azidobenzoate. When 125I peptide conjugates, CEA, and BSA were injected intravenously into rats CEA and the PELPK-albumin conjugate were cleared rapidly. The other peptide conjugates and BSA cleared at a much slower rate. Activity of 125I-labeled CEA and PELPK-albumin conjugate per gram of tissue was highest for the liver and spleen. Clearance of 125I-CEA was inhibited by the presence of higher concentrations of the PELPK-albumin conjugate. With isolated rat Kupffer cells, only CEA and the PELPK-albumin conjugate were bound and internalized in vitro and CEA binding was inhibited by higher concentrations of the PELPK-albumin conjugate. Similarly, binding of the PELPK-albumin conjugate was inhibited by the presence of unlabeled CEA. Use of a heterobifunctional cross linking agent demonstrated reaction of the PELPK-albumin with an 80-kDa protein on the Kupffer cell surface by SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE). This semisynthetic ligand (PELPK-albumin) allows us to examine the function of the 80-kDa receptor without interference due to other properties of CEA including its ability to bind lectins and to cause homotypic aggregation of cells. The consequences of CEA binding to the 80-kDa receptor may have implications in the development of hepatic metastasis from colorectal cancer.