Endothelial cell adhesion molecule-1 (ELAM-1), intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) are cytokine-regulated cell surface molecules involved in leukocyte adhesion. We have studied two forms of cutaneous inflammation to investigate in vivo the kinetics of adhesion molecule expression in relation to tissue accumulation of leukocytes. Immunohistology was performed on skin biopsies taken from human volunteers at 1, 6, 24, 72 h, and 1 week after two minimal erythema doses (MED) of ultraviolet B (UV-B) or intra-cutaneous tuberculin-purified protein derivative (PPD) (10-100 U). ELAM-1 expression on vascular endothelium and polymorphonuclear leukocyte infiltration were first observed at 6 h and maximal at 24 h after both UV-B and PPD. At 72 h and 1 week, however, endothelial ELAM-1 was more strongly expressed in PPD biopsies. VCAM-1 was minimally expressed in control skin, and was induced above background levels on endothelium, on some perivascular cells, and on stellate-shaped cells in the upper dermis at 24 h after injection of PPD; it was maintained up to 1 week. In contrast, no induction of VCAM-1 was seen following challenge with either 2 or 8 MED UV-B. Following PPD, but not UV-B, there was marked induction of ICAM-1 expression on basal keratinocytes. In these biopsies, the inflammation induced in response to PPD therefore differed from UV-B-induced inflammation in showing prolonged expression of endothelial ELAM-1, induction of VCAM-1 on endothelium and other cells, and induction of keratinocyte ICAM-1. These differences may result from differences in the cytokines released and may in turn be responsible for the differences in the nature of the leukocytic infiltration during the two types of inflammatory response.