Epithelial cancer of the ovary spreads by implantation of tumor cells onto the mesothelial cells lining the peritoneal cavity. The aim of this study was to identify the adhesion molecules involved in the interaction of ovarian carcinoma cells with mesothelial cells. The human ovarian carcinoma cell lines SKOV3 and NIH:OVCAR5 as well as LP9 cells, a human peritoneal mesothelial cell line, were analyzed by flow cytometry for the expression of CD44 and the beta1 integrin subunit. An in vitro adhesion assay was developed whereby LP9 cells were grown as confluent monolayers, and radiolabeled ovarian carcinoma cells were monitored for their ability to adhere to the mesothelial monolayer in the presence of potential inhibitors. Each cell line was evaluated for the presence of a pericellular matrix by a particle exclusion assay. A monoclonal antibody (MAb) against the beta1 integrin subunit significantly reduced the adhesion of SKOV3 cells to LP9 cells, whereas NIH:OVCAR5 adhesion to LP9 cells was significantly inhibited by a CD44 MAb. The LP9 cells produced both hyaluronic acid (a ligand for CD44) as well as several extracellular matrix molecules (ligands for the beta1 integrin heterodimers). These results suggest that both CD44 and the beta1 integrin heterodimers may play a role in mediating the adhesion of ovarian carcinoma cells to mesothelial cells.