Differential display was used to identify genes which were differentially expressed when HT-29 human colon adenocarcinoma cells were grown as monolayers attached to plastic or as colonies in soft agarose. One of the gel bands differentially displayed corresponded to a 171 bp fragment that showed 99% identity with a sequence of mRNA for human calnexin. The decrease in calnexin gene expression by HT-29 cells growing as colonies in soft agarose was confirmed by reverse transcriptase-PCR (RT-PCR) using calnexin-specific primers. We also used RT-PCR to show that the expression of calnexin was decreased in HT-29 cells and MCF-7 human breast adenocarcinoma cells growing in suspension in poly(hydroxyethyl methacrylate)-coated wells compared to cells growing as monolayers. The results suggest that there is a signal for the up-regulation of calnexin expression when cells contact a substrate which allows cell adhesion.