The purpose of this study was to determine the quantity and nature of the mucins synthesized and secreted by four different pancreatic cancer cell lines. Well- to moderately-differentiated SW1990 and CAPAN-2 human pancreatic cancer cells were found to produce more high-Mr glycoprotein (HMG) than less-differentiated MIA PaCa-2 and PANC-1 cells. Most of the labelled HMG was secreted within 24 h. The results of chemical and enzymic degradation, ion-exchange chromatography and density-gradient centrifugation indicated that the HMG in SW1990 and CAPAN-2 cells has the properties expected for mucins, whereas much of the HMG in MIA PaCa-2 and PANC-1 cells may not be mucin, but proteoglycan. These results are consistent with immunoblots and Northern blots showing the presence of apomucin and apomucin mRNA in SW1990 and CAPAN-2 cells, but not in MIA PaCa-2 and PANC-1 cells. The Western blots and Northern blots also show that SW1990 and CAPAN-2 cells, like breast cancer cells, have the mammary-type apomucin and mRNA coded by the MUC1 gene, but lack the intestinal type apomucin and mRNA coded by the MUC2 gene. In contrast, the colon cancer cell lines tested in culture express apomucin and mRNA coded by MUC2 but not by MUC1.