Lymphocyte activation triggers adhesiveness of lymphocyte function-associated antigen-1 (LFA-1; integrin ?(L)?(2)) for intercellular adhesion molecules (ICAMs) on endothelia or antigen-presenting cells. Whether the activation signal, after transmission through multiple domains to the ligand-binding ?I domain, results in affinity changes for ligand has been hotly debated. Here, we present the first comprehensive measurements of LFA-1 affinities on T lymphocytes for ICAM-1 under a broad array of activating conditions. Only a modest increase in affinity for soluble ligand was detected after activation by chemokine or T-cell receptor ligation, conditions that primed LFA-1 and robustly induced lymphocyte adhesion to ICAM-1 substrates. By stabilizing well-defined LFA-1 conformations by Fab, we demonstrate the absolute requirement of the open LFA-1 headpiece for adhesiveness and high affinity. Interaction of primed LFA-1 with immobilized but not soluble ICAM-1 triggers energy-dependent affinity maturation of LFA-1 to an adhesive, high affinity state. Our results lend support to the traction or translational motion dependence of integrin activation.