An inflammatory reaction is regularly noticed in irradiated tissues following photodynamic therapy (PDT). This observation is potentially associated with leucocyte-mediated tissue damage, which might further contribute to the tumoricidal effect of this therapy. The objective of our study was to investigate the effects of PDT on leucocyte-endothelium interaction in the microvasculature of tumours and normal tissue. Experiments were performed in the dorsal skinfold chamber preparation of Syrian golden hamsters bearing amelanotic melanoma A-Mel-3. The photosensitiser. Photofrin (5 mg kg-1 i.v.) was injected 24 h before laser irradiation (630 nm, 100 mW cm-2, 10 J cm-2 or 100 J cm-2). Post-capillary confluent venules (diameter 15-40 microns) of subcutaneous (s.c.) tissue or the amelanotic melanoma A-Mel-3 were observed by intravital microscopy before, 5, 30, 60 and 180 min after laser irradiation and recorded for off-line analysis. Before treatment, the number of adherent leucocytes in tumour vessels was only 22% of the number observed in vessels of s.c. tissue (P < 0.01). The maximum increase in adhering leucocytes was observed in post-capillary venules of s.c. tissue 1 h after PDT (P < 0.01). In contrast, enhanced leucocyte-endothelium interaction was missing in tumour vessels and in control groups. These results indicate that the tumour destruction observed after PDT is not mediated by leucocyte-endothelium interaction in the tumour. Induction of leucocyte adhesion in the PDT-treated normal tissue suggests a contribution to the peritumoral inflammatory response. Different maturational status or biochemical properties of tumour microvascular endothelium may explain the lack of leucocyte adherence upon PDT.