Chronic inflammatory cells are a recognized component of atherosclerotic plaques at all stages of development. As adhesion molecules play a fundamental role in inflammatory processes, we have carried out an immunohistochemical investigation of the distribution of endothelial leucocyte adhesion molecule-1 (ELAM-1)*, intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) in human atherosclerotic lesions. Autopsy specimens from abdominal aorta and coronary arteries were obtained from 21 cases within 24 h of death. ELAM-1 and ICAM-1 were consistently expressed by the entire intimal endothelium of normal coronary arteries and also by the intimal endothelium overlying aortic fatty streaks. Both coronary artery and aortic lesions showed strong staining for ICAM-1 on and around macrophages. VCAM-1 was not detected on intimal endothelial cells, but strong staining of adventitial lymphoid aggregates for this molecule was seen. This work suggests a role for ELAM-1 and ICAM-1 in mononuclear cell recruitment during atherogenesis.