Macrophage scavenger receptors are trimeric integral membrane glycoproteins which have been implicated in various macrophage functions including uptake of oxidized lipoprotein and the serum-dependent, divalent cation-independent adhesion of macrophages to tissue culture-treated plastic. In this study we have used a recently defined monoclonal antibody (2F8) which recognizes murine macrophage scavenger receptor, to explore its expression in lymphoid and non-lymphoid organs of the normal adult. Scavenger receptor was detected in the red pulp and marginal zone of normal adult mouse spleen, medulla of the thymus and subcapsular region of lymph nodes. Kupffer cells in the liver, alveolar macrophages in the lung and lamina propria macrophages in the gut all reacted with 2F8 monoclonal antibody. The antigen was not detected on any non-macrophage cells, with the exception of sinusoidal endothelial cells in the liver. In the spleen, lymph node and liver, scavenger receptor antigen expression was associated specifically with phagocytic cells which had taken up colloidal carbon. To examine macrophage adhesion in a context relevant to the interactions occurring within lymphoid and non-lymphoid organs, and the contribution of macrophage scavenger receptor to this adhesion, we designed an assay of macrophage adhesion to frozen tissue sections. Adhesion to most tissues was high and uniform in the absence of any chelating agents. The chelation of Ca2+ and Mg2+ revealed specific patterns of macrophage adhesion in lymphoid and non-lymphoid organs which was completely inhibited by 2F8. The ability of this antibody to block the EDTA-resistant adhesion correlated with tissue expression of the antigen in some tissues. Unlike adhesion to tissue culture-treated plastic, macrophage scavenger receptor-dependent adhesion of macrophages to frozen tissue sections did not exhibit an absolute requirement for exogenous fetal bovine serum indicating the presence of an endogenous ligand for scavenger receptor within the tissues. We propose that macrophage scavenger receptor is a candidate homing or retention molecule for macrophage localization within ligand-rich tissues.