Four different transformed cell lines were isolated as a result of independent infection of primary hamster fibroblasts by Rous sarcoma virus (RSV SR-D stocks). These lines differ by the level of their spontaneous metastatic activity: HET-SR-1, HET-SR-8, and HET-SR-10 cell lines induced 70-200 metastatic nodules in the lung and/or lymph nodes of inoculated animals (high metastatic lines, HM). Metastatic activity was not identified after injection of HET-SR cells (low metastatic line, LM). All cell lines contained one copy of integrated and expressed intact RSV provirus. The difference in the amount of v-src protein in cell lines was not correlated with their metastatic potential in vivo. Complete v-srcHM and v-srcLM genes were cloned from corresponding gene libraries and sequenced. In the unique region of both v-src isoforms a GC-rich insert of 60 nucleotides (20 a.a.) was found. The presence of this insert explains the unusual apparent molecular weight of protein encoded by v-srcHM and vsrcLM: 62 kDA. Both genes had 10 identical amino acid changes when compared to the known RSV SR-D v-src sequence. v-srcHM and v-srcLM differ by several amino acid changes. Most of them are localized in the unique domain and the extreme carboxy-terminal region of the of the oncoprotein. Both v-src variants and chimeric v-src with mutually substituted parts were subcloned in a retroviral vector and introduced into avian neuroretina cells. Significant differences in the morphology of transformed neuroretinal cells were associated with the mutations in the carboxy-terminal region of the v-src oncogene. Low metastatic HET-SR cells transfected with v-srcHM and the chimeric gene v-src-LH remarkably increased their metastatic potential. In contrast, this effect was not observed when the same cells were transfected with v-srcLM and the chimeric v-srcHL gene. Specific changes in the distribution of fibronectin matrix typical for high metastatic cells were found in the lines transfected with v-srcHM.