Because of their importance in mediating cellular interactions in chronic inflammatory diseases, this study has examined the expression of a number of adhesion molecules in adult (n=11), generalized early onset (n=5) and localized early onset (n=2) forms of periodontitis. In comparison with immunostaining profiles of cryostat sections of healthy gingival tissue (n=7), the beta 1 integrins VLA-I, VLA-2 and VLA-4 were found to be up-regulated in periodontitis, with VLA-6 being markedly elevated. Although only small differences were observed in ICAM-1 and LFA-3 expression in the gingival epithelium, there was particularly notable up-regulation of these adhesion molecules within the inflammatory infiltrates of the diseased tissues. However, there were no statistically significant differences between the serum levels of a soluble form of LFA-3 in periodontitis patients (n=47) compared with healthy control subjects (n=40), although the generalized early onset and adult periodontitis groups exhibited wider ranges of circulating LFA-3. These findings show that there is localized modulation of adhesion molecule expression in the chronic inflammatory periodontal diseases studied, but that the levels of LFA-3 in the circulation nevertheless remain unaffected.