Follicular lymphomas recapitulate the architecture of germinal centers (GCs) of normal secondary lymphoid follicles. Using an in vitro binding assay, it has recently been demonstrated that the normal B lymphocytes bind to GCs. This interaction is mediated by a receptor-ligand pair consisting of the beta 1 integrin very late antigen 4 (VLA-4) on the B cell, and the vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) expressed on follicular dendritic cells (FDC). Considering the similarities between follicular lymphomas and normal GCs, the adhesive interaction of follicular non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) cells and GCs was examined. Cells isolated from 16 of 24 cases of follicular NHL bound to normal GCs. Neoplastic follicles could similarly support the binding of follicular NHL cells. This adhesion was inhibited by monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs) directed against VLA-4 and VCAM-1. This supports the hypothesis that the neoplastic follicles used the identical adhesive interactions responsible, at least in part, for the localization of normal B cells to GCs. Adhesion receptors have an important role in the regulation of normal lymphoid cell proliferation, differentiation, and localization. Therefore, an understanding of the adhesive interaction of follicular NHL cells with GCs may provide insight into the clinical and biologic behavior of these diseases.