Detachment of individual sickle erythrocytes from cultured endothelial cell monolayers has been evaluated by a fluid-shearing technique in an effort to quantitate adherence at shear forces that would be anticipated in the in vivo circulation. Nonirreversibly sickled cells (non-ISC) were more adherent at normal oxygen tensions than control cells. More than 1% non-ISC remained attached to the monolayer at forces greater than physiologic shear stresses in capillary and venous circulations, and many of the most avidly attached cells, once separated, immediately reattached to adjacent endothelial cells. These data suggest that hemoglobin S-containing erythrocytes may have a higher frequency of adherence in vivo in regions of low shear stress where prolonged erythrocyte-endothelial cell contact could occur. Some of these cells detached by shear force would subsequently reattach in in vivo conditions. Plasma-enhanced attachment frequency and plasma from blood in a case of sickle crisis caused further increase. These observations further support the concept that sickle erythrocyte- endothelial cell interaction may be a significant factor in initiation of vascular occlusive events in sickle cell disease.