Although human glioblastomas are highly invasive tumors intracere-brally, only rarely do they metastasize outside the central nervous system. In contrast, the brain is a major target for metastatic spread of many systemic tumors. Recently, it was demonstrated that expression of splice variants of CD44 (CD44v), but not standard CD44 (CD44s), was sufficient to confer metastatic potential to low- or nonmetastatic rat tumor cells. Because CD44 is expressed in brain tumors, we examined whether differential expression of CD44 isoforms was correlated with the metastatic behavior of these tumors. We compared CD44s and CD44v expression in 17 human glioblastomas, 18 glioma cell lines, and metastases of 15 other tumors to the brain by reverse transcription/polymerase chain reaction, Northern blotting, and immunocytochemistry. These experiments showed that 0 of 17 glioblastomas and 0 of 18 glioma cell lines expressed CD44v as compared to 12 of 15 brain metastases. These data show a correlation between CD44v expression and the metastatic ability of the tumors analyzed (P < 0.01). This suggests (a) that the biological significance of the lack of CD44v expression in human glioblastomas warrants further examination with regard to their inability to metastasize extraneurally and (b) that CD44v expression may play a role in the intracerebral spread of about one-half of the brain metastases. Therefore, CD44v expression should be further considered as a potential marker for differential diagnosis and prognosis of patients with brain metastases. © 1993, American Association for Cancer Research. All rights reserved.