A recently established model for local breast cancer recurrence using the 13762NF rat mammary adenocarcinoma was used to evaluate biologic and biochemical properties related to clinical outcome for this class of tumors. Sublines isolated from local tumor regrowths following surgical resection differed from each other and from the 'parental' cell lines for multiple phenotypes, including metastatic propensity. Local recurrence- and primary tumor-derived sublines were examined by two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (2D-PAGE), lectin binding to electrophoretically separated proteins, and lactoperoxidase-catalyzed cell surface iodination; and differential protein patterns were compared to tumor progression and metastatic potential. 2D-PAGE revealed several quantitatively different spots which correlated with lung colonization potential. In particular, quantities of an apparently unique, non-cell-surface protein, P50.9 (Mr ∼ 50 900, pI ∼ 7·3) correlated inversely with metastatic propensity, suggesting that it may be associated with, among other possibilities, the negative regulation of the metastatic phenotype. P50.9 was unrelated to four similarly sized metastasis-associated proteins-tumor autocrine motility factor; the rat analog of tumor suppressor, p53; rat cytokeratin 14 or procathepsin D-as determined by amino acid analysis. A major wheat germ agglutinin binding sialoglycoprotein, gp93 (Mr ∼ 93 000), was present in smaller amounts as cells were passaged in vivo and re-established as in vitro cultures [MTF7 > 'primary' tumor-derived lines (scl, sc3) ≫ local recurrence-derived lines (LR1, LRla, LR3, LR4, LR5, LR6)]. Besides cell surface glycoprotein losses, two of six local recurrence-derived sublines expressed a wheat germ agglutinin-binding sialoglycoprotein, gp110 (Mr ∼ 110000), previously undetected on any of the other cell lines including the parental populations. gp110 was found in LR3 and LR6 which were relatively highly metastatic; however, correlation with metastatic potential failed because gp110 was not present on the metastatic parental cell line, MTF7. These results demonstrate specific quantitative and qualitative protein differences associated with the selection of locally recurrent mammary tumors. © 1990 Taylor & Francis Ltd.