Differences on 5′-nucleotidase activity in intact Rugli and BCS-TC2 cells (rat glioblastoma and human colon adenocarcinoma cell lines, respectively) are not due to differences in the characteristics of the ectoenzyme. A membrane-bound 5′-nucleotidase from BCS-TC2 cells has been purified to homogeneity with a high specific activity (130 U/mg), yielding a single 72-kDa band on SDS-PAGE. It is a metalloenzyme and, after inhibition by EDTA, its activity can be partially restored by divalent cations. The hydrolysis of the nucleosides 5′-monophosphate used as substrate follows Michaelis-Menten kinetics; ADP and concanavalin A are competitive and non-competitive inhibitors of the AMPase activity, respectively. This ecto-5′-nucleotidase is a high-mannose glycoprotein; deglycosylation converts the 72-kDa into a 59-kDa protein with a concomitant activity loss. The enzyme purified from BCS-TC2 cells shows similar characteristics from that previously isolated from Rugli cells; differences between them are mainly due to glycosylation. Polyclonal antibodies against 5′-nucleotidase from BCS-TC2 cells also show cross-reactivity with the enzyme from Rugli cells. When the ectoenzyme activity is measured in cells in culture, Rugli cells present a higher activity than BCS-TC2 cells however, they express very low amounts of ecto-5′-nucleotidase. Our results also show a reduction in protein level and enzyme activity associated with a decrease in the differentiation degree and an increase in tumorigenicity of human colon adenocarcinoma BCS-TC2 sublines.