The 5T4 antigen is defined by a monoclonal antibody (MAb) specific for human trophoblast. It is also expressed by many types of tumour cell and has been associated with metastasis and poor clinical outcome in a number of cancers. This pattern of expression is consistent with a mechanistic involvement of 5T4 molecules in the spread of cancer cells. The 5T4 antigen is a transmembrane glycoprotein with a 310 amino acid extracellular domain and a 44 amino acid cytoplasmic domain. Transfection of full-length 5T4 cDNA into epithelial cells alters cell-cell contacts and cellular motility. Thus, in 5T4-transfected CL-S1 murine mammary cells, 5T4 expression is associated with dendritic morphology, accompanied by abrogation of actin/cadherin-containing contacts and increased motility. In transfected MDCK canine kidney epithelial cells, 5T4 over-expression also results in increased motility, but disruption of cell-cell contacts, either by culturing cells in low calcium medium or by addition of HGF/SF, is needed. The effects of 5T4 expression on morphology and motility are separable since cells transfected with a truncated form of 5T4 cDNA in which the cytoplasmic domain is deleted reveal that the latter is necessary to abrogate actin/cadherin-containing contacts but does not influence the effects on motility. Thus, 5T4 molecules can deliver signals through both the extracellular and intracellular domains, and the resultant effects are consistent with a role for 5T4 molecules in invasion processes.