During the inflammatory response, granulocytes and other leukocytes adhere to and emigrate from small venules. Before firm attachment, leukocytes are observed rolling slowly along the endothelium in venules of most tissues accessible to intravital microscopy. The molecular mechanism underlying this early type of leukocyte-endothelial interaction is unknown. Leukocyte rolling was investigated in venules (diameter, 40 microns) of the exposed rat mesentery. Micro-infusion of a recombinant soluble chimera (LEC-IgG) of the murine homing receptor lectin-like cell adhesion molecule 1 (LEC-CAM 1; gp90MEL) into individual venules reduced the number of rolling leukocytes by 89% +/- 2% (mean +/- SEM, n = 20 venules), while a similar CD4 chimera (CD4- IgG) had no effect (inhibition 14% +/- 7%, n = 25). Rolling was also greatly reduced by a polyclonal serum against LEC-CAM 1 (inhibition 84% +/- 3%, n = 35); preimmune serum was ineffective (11% +/- 13% inhibition, n = 28). These findings indicate that LEC-CAM 1 mediates the adhesive interaction underlying leukocyte rolling and thus may play an important role in inflammation and in pathologic conditions involving leukocytes.