Background: The metastasis of cancer cells and leukocyte extravasation into inflamed tissues share common features. Specialized carbohydrates modified with sialyl Lewis x (sLex) antigens on leukocyte membranes are ligands for selectin adhesion molecules on activated vascular endothelial cells at inflammatory sites. The activity of the enzyme core 2 β1,6 N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase (C2GnT1) in leukocytes greatly increases their ability to bind to endothelial selectins. C2GnT1 is essential for the synthesis of core 2-branched O-linked carbohydrates terminated with sLex (C2-O-sLex). Our goal was to determine the expression profiles of C2-O-sLex in the malignant progression and metastasis of colorectal adenocarcinomas. The well characterized CHO-131 monoclonal antibody (mAb) specifically recognizes C2-O-sLex present in human leukocytes and carcinoma cells. Using CHO-131 mAb, we investigated whether C2-O-sLex was present in 113 human primary colorectal adenocarcinomas, 10 colorectal adenomas, 46 metastatic liver tumors, 28 normal colorectal tissues, and 5 normal liver tissues by immunohistochemistry. We also examined mRNA levels of the enzyme core 2 β1,6-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase (C2GnT1) in 20 well, 15 moderately, and 2 poorly differentiated colorectal adenocarcinomas, and in 5 normal colorectal tissues by using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reactions (RT-PCR). Results: We observed high reactivity with CHO-131 mAb in approximately 70% of colorectal carcinomas and 87% of metastatic liver tumors but a lack of reactivity in colorectal adenomas and normal colonic and liver tissues. Positive reactivity with CHO-131 mAb was very prominent in neoplastic colorectal glands of well to moderately differentiated adenocarcinomas. The most intense staining with CHO-131 mAb was observed at the advancing edge of tumors with the deepest invasive components. Finally, we analyzed C2GnT1 mRNA levels in 37 colorectal adenocarcinomas and 5 normal colorectal tissues by RT-PCR. Significantly, we observed a greater than 15-fold increase in C2GnT1 mRNA levels in colorectal adenocarcinomas compared to normal colorectal tissues. Conclusion: C2-O-sLex, detected by the CHO-131 mAb, is a tumor associated antigen whose expression is highly upregulated in colorectal adenocarcinomas and metastatic liver tumors compared to normal tissues. C2-O-sLex is a potentially useful early predictor of metastasis.