The cell adhesion molecule (CAM) L1 is involved in homotypic and heterotypic adhesion between neural cells. It has recently also been identified on leucocytes. We have investigated the expression of L1 on hematopoietic tumor cell lines and found that several tumors including the ESb-MP lymphoma are positive for L1. A potential role for L1 in spontaneous metastasis formation was examined using these cells. From wild-type (wt) L1high lymphoma cells we selected by a fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS) stable L1low expression variants. Syngeneic DBA/2 mice injected subcutaneously with L1low clones showed faster primary tumor growth, developed visceral metastases significantly faster and died earlier than animals carrying L1high wt cells. L1 high revertants from the L1low variants showed again a reduced metastatic capacity and a malignancy similar to the wt cells. Expression of L1 on the tumor variants and revertants correlated directly with their homotypic aggregation behaviour in vitro. L1 expression correlated negatively with metastatic capacity. These results suggest that L1 molecules may contribute to the overall malignant potential of the lymphoma cells, presumably by interfering with cell-cell interactions critical for tumor growth and dissemination.