ICAM-1 is a cell surface glycoprotein originally defined by a monoclonal antibody (MAb) that inhibits phorbol ester-stimulated leukocyte aggregation. Staining of frozen sections and immunofluorescence flow cytometry showed intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) is expressed on non-hematopoietic cells such as vascular endothelial cells, thymic epithelial cells, certain other epithelial cells, and fibroblasts, and on hematopoietic cells such as tissue macrophages, mitogen-stimulated T lymphocyte blasts, and germinal center dendritic cells in tonsils, lymph nodes, and Peyer's patches. ICAM-1 staining on vascular endothelial cells is most intense in T cell areas in lymph nodes and tonsils showing reactive hyperplasia. ICAM-1 is expressed in low amounts on peripheral blood leukocytes. Phorbol ester-stimulated differentiation of myelomonocytic cell lines greatly increases ICAM-1 expression. ICAM-1 expression on dermal fibroblasts is increased threefold to fivefold by either interleukin 1 (IL 1) or interferon-gamma at 10 U/ml over a period of 4 or 10 hr, respectively. The induction is dependent on protein and mRNA synthesis and is reversible. ICAM-1 displays Mr heterogeneity in different cell types with a Mr of 97,000 on fibroblasts, 114,000 on the myelomonocytic cell line U937, and 90,000 on the B lymphoblastoid cell JY. ICAM-1 biosynthesis involves a Mr approximately 73,000 intracellular precursor. The non-N-glycosylated form resulting from tunicamycin treatment has a Mr of 55,000. ICAM-1 isolated from phorbol myristic acetate (PMA) stimulated U937 and from fibroblasts yields an identical major product of Mr = 60,000 after chemical deglycosylation. ICAM-1 MAb interferes with the adhesion of phytohemagglutinin blasts, and the adhesion of the cell line SKW3 to human dermal fibroblast cell layers. Pretreatment of fibroblasts but not lymphocytes with ICAM-1 MAb, and of lymphocytes but not fibroblasts with lymphocyte function-associated antigen 1 MAb inhibits adhesion. Intercellular adhesion is increased by prior exposure of fibroblasts to IL 1, and correlates with induction of ICAM-1.