Increasing experimental evidence demonstrates that malignant transformation is associated with changes in the repertoire of expression of the integrin family of molecules, which mediate cell-matrix and cell-cell interactions. We have analyzed immunohistochemically and immunochemically the expression of VLA-3 integrin and its known ligands, namely, laminin (LM), fibronectin (FN), collagen type IV (Coll IV), nicein (NIC), and entactin/nidogen (ENT), in lung tumors of various histological types. alpha 3 beta 1 was detectable in normal bronchial epithelium and along basement membranes of alveolar walls. In non-small cell lung carcinomas (NSCLC) the integrin was expressed in 82% of the cases, independently of histological type and degree of differentiation of the tumors. On the other hand, only 13% of the small cell lung carcinomas (SCLC) displayed a weak and heterogeneous distribution of the alpha 3 beta 1 complex. Our findings were confirmed immunochemically using long-term tumor cell lines. While the expression of both alpha 3 beta 1 and ligands LM, FN, Coll IV, and Ent correlated in NSCLC with the presence of basement membranes, FN was the only ligand detectable in the stroma of SCLCs. A selective loss of nicein in basement membranes was demonstrated in NSCLC indicating an impairment of expression of this glycoprotein following malignant transformation.