This study we presents a novel anti-occludin monoclonal antibody that can be used for formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue sections. The relationships between aberrant localization of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and abnormalities of tight junctions were studied in human colorectal cancers by this antibody. Abnormalities in the cell surface expression of CEA have been shown to be characteristic of human colorectal cancer cells. Cancer cells that participated in the formation of glandular structures expressed occludin at the apical cell border and CEA was expressed more apically than occludin. Where cancer cells showed solid nests without glandular structures, occludin was completely lost and CEA was demonstrated in a diffuse pattern throughout the cells. These findings suggest that the polarized apical expression of CEA in neoplastic glandular structures depends on the expression of occludin and the fence function of tight junctions. During tumour progression, loss of occludin may lead to the loss of membrane polarity and the non-polarized expression of CEA. The antibody described provides a powerful tool for the study of tight junctions in surgically resected human tissue. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.