Integrins comprise a family of transmembrane glycoproteins that modulate cell-matrix and cell-cell relationships by acting as receptors to extracellular protein ligands, and also as direct adhesion molecules. The authors studied by immunohistochemistry the distribution of the alpha 1-6,v and the beta 1,3,4 subunits of integrins in samples of normal breast, the spectrum of fibrocystic disease (FCD), and representative benign and malignant neoplasms. Monoclonal antibodies (Mabs) specific for each subunit were applied to cryosections by the avidin-biotin-complex method; selected samples were studied by double immunofluorescence microscopy with the Mabs and a polyclonal antiserum to myosin. The authors found that the alpha 1-3,6,v and the beta 1, integrin subunits were detectable in the normal breast parenchyma; myoepithelial cells were consistently more prominently stained than the basolateral aspect of the luminal cells. This immunoprofile was retained, and in cases enhanced through the spectrum of FCD, in benign tumors and in ductal and lobular carcinomas in situ. In most infiltrating ductal carcinomas, integrin staining tended to decrease except for some cases that reacted strongly for the alpha v subunit. Several mucinous carcinomas reacted strongly for alpha 2,3,6,v and beta 4 subunits, and even more so for the alpha 5 subunit that was not found in the normal breast. Subsets of infiltrating lobular carcinomas stained convincingly for alpha 1,3,6,v and beta 1 subunits in delicate but abundant kinetopodia. Our findings indicate that in hyperplasias and in benign tumors integrin expression patterns parallel those of the normal breast, whereas in carcinomas, variations include decrease, enhancement, and emergence of certain subunits that are not in the normal repertory. Alterations of integrin expression parallel phenotypic changes in breast carcinoma cells; they also reflect their disrupted interaction with the similarly disrupted extracellular matrix. Enhancement of certain integrins in some carcinomas may reflect the selection of subpopulations with increased binding capacity which in turn may impact on their invasive and metastatic properties.