The screening of cDNA expression libraries derived from human tumors with autologous antibody (SEREX) has proven to be a powerful method for defining the structure of tumor antigens recognized by the humoral immune system. In the present study, 48 distinct antigens (NY-CO-I-NY-CO-48)reactive with autologous IgG were identified by SEREX analysis in 4 patients with colon cancer. Sequencing analysis showed that 17 of the cDNA clones were previously uncharacterized molecules and 31 represented known gene products. The individual cDNA clones were analyzed in the following manner: a search for mutations or other structural changes; an analysis of mRNA expression in a panel of normal tissues; and a frequency analysis of the antibody response to the expressed product in the sera of colon cancer patients and normal individuals. The initial analysis showed NY-CO-13 to be a mutated version of the p53 tumor suppressor gene. Three of the 48 antigens showed a differential pattern of mRNA expression, with NY-CO-27 (galectin-4) expressed primarily in gastrointestinal tract, and NY-CO-37 and -38 showing a pattern of tissue- specific isoforms. With regard to immunogenicity, 20 of the 48 antigens were detected by allogeneic sera; 14 of these were reactive with sera from both normal donors and cancer patients, and 6 other clones (NY-CO-8, -9, -13, - 16, -20 and -38) reacted exclusively with sera from colon cancer patients (ranging from 14% to 27%). Our results on colon cancer illustrate both the complexity and the potential of the SEREX approach for analysis of the humoral immune response against human cancer.