Mesothelia, which cover all coelomic organs and body cavities in vertebrates, perform diverse functions in embryonic and adult life. Yet, mesothelia are traditionally viewed as simple, uniform epithelia. Here we demonstrate distinct differences between visceral and parietal mesothelia, the most basic subdivision of this tissue type, in terms of gene expression, adhesion, migration, and invasion. Gene profiling determined that autotaxin, a secreted lysophospholipase D originally discovered as a tumor cell-motility-stimulating factor, was expressed exclusively in the more motile and invasive visceral mesothelia and at abnormally high levels in mesotheliomas. Gain and loss of function studies demonstrate that autotaxin signaling is indeed a critical factor responsible for phenotypic differences within mesothelia. Furthermore, we demonstrate that known and novel small molecule inhibitors of the autotaxin signaling pathway dramatically blunt migratory and invasive behaviors of aggressive mesotheliomas. Taken together, this study reveals distinct phenotypes within the mesothelial cell lineage, demonstrates that differential autotaxin expression is the molecular underpinning for these differences, and provides a novel target and lead compounds to intervene in invasive mesotheliomas.