A panel of tumor cell lines and clones was generated by selecting for different metastatic capacity in 3AM fibrosarcoma cells. These cell lines were exposed to substrata of various purified extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins and labeled in culture with [35S]methionine. Following analysis by two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis the profiles of total cellular proteins produced by the cell lines displaying different phenotypes were examined. The presence of a specific protein, p54, was related to the cellular metastatic potential, and the synthesis of p54 was influenced by growth on extracellular matrix components. The amount of p54 was minimal and non-inducible in tumor cell lines exhibiting two different phenotypes: (1) experimentally metastatic (EM) and (2) transformed, non-tumorigenic (NTT) cell types. In contrast, all of the five different cell lines capable of both spontaneous and experimental metastasis (SEM), produced p54 either constitutively or through induction by growth on ECM protein substrata of either laminin of fibronectin, but not collagen type IV. These data suggest that the p54 protein may be a unique biochemical marker associated with spontaneous metastatic cell types.