Expression of two developmentally regulated carbohydrate antigens, the sialyl stage-specific embryonic antigen-1 (SSEA-1) and I-antigens, in human lymphocytes and lymphocytic leukemia cells was investigated using specific monoclonal antibodies. Sialyl SSEA-1 was expressed only on natural killer (NK) cells, and was essentially absent on resting mature T and B cells among normal peripheral lymphocytes. On the other hand, the I-antigen was strongly expressed on virtually all mature B cells, moderately expressed on most mature T cells, but not expressed on NK cells in normal donors. Expression of the two antigens on normal T and B cells was reversible; in vitro stimulation of normal lymphocytes with concanavalin A (Con A) resulted in the loss of I-antigen and appearance of sialyl SSEA-1 on CD3+ T blasts, whereas stimulation with pokeweed mitogen led to loss of I-antigen expression and appearance of sialyl SSEA-1 antigen on CD19+ B blasts. Among lymphocytic leukemia cells, sialyl SSEA-1 was detected primarily on leukemia cells having immature properties such as most common acute lymphocytic leukemia (cALL) blasts, while the I-antigen was frequently expressed on malignant cells having relatively mature properties, such as those found in adult T- cell leukemia or chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and only occasionally on cALL blasts. Among normal peripheral lymphocytes, the sialyl SSEA-1+I- antigen- NK cells selectively underwent E-selectin (ELAM-1, endothelial- leukocyte adhesion molecule-1)-dependent adhesion to endothelial cells, while the I-antigen+sialyl SSEA-1- mature T and B cells did not, in line with the recent finding that sialyl SSEA-1 serves as a specific ligand for E-selectin. Con A blasts, which are sialyl SSEA-1+I-antigen- , also exhibited significant E-selectin-dependent adhesion to endothelial cells. These results indicate that expression of the sialyl SSEA-1 and I-antigens varies alternately depending on the differentiation/activation status of the lymphocytes, and that this at least partly regulates the behavior of lymphocytes at the vessel wall.