Tenascin is a large extracellular matrix molecule expressed at specific sites in the adult, including immune system tissues such as the bone marrow, thymus, spleen, and T cell areas of lymph nodes. Tenascin has been reported to have both adhesive and anti-adhesive effects in static assays. We report here that tenascin supports the tethering and rolling of lymphocytes and lymphoblastic cell lines under flow conditions. Binding was calcium dependent and was not inhibited by treatment of lymphocytes with O-glycoprotease or a panel of glycosidases including neuraminidase and heparitinase but was inhibited by treatment of cells with proteinase K. Binding was to the fibrinogen-like terminal domain of tenascin as determined by antibody blocking studies and binding to recombinant tenascin proteins. When compared to rolling of the same cell type on E-selectin, rolling on tenascin was found to be smoother at all shear stresses tested, suggesting that cells formed a larger number of bonds on the tenascin substrate than on the E-selectin substrate. When protein plating densities were adjusted to give similar profiles of cell detachment under increasing shears, the density of tenascin was 8.5-fold greater than that of E-selectin. Binding to tenascin was not dependent on any molecules previously identified as tenascin receptors and is likely to involve a novel tenascin receptor on lymphocytes. We postulate that the ability of tenascin to support lymphocyte rolling may reflect its ability to support cell migration and that this interaction may be used by lymphocytes migrating through secondary lymphoid organs.