In contrast to sessile cell types, lymphocytes migrate through the vasculature to become diffusely distributed in tissues or organized in lymphoid structures. A complex array of adhesion molecules including selectins, integrins and their counter-receptors mediate lymphocyte homing and migration into tissues and may be constitutively expressed or induced. However, the molecules that mediate the tissue-specific retention of lymphocytes within the parenchyma have not been identified. Along the epithelium at the basolateral surface of enterocytes, intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes are found. These T cells of the mucosal immune system serve as a model for the tissue-specific compartmentalization of lymphocytes. We investigated whether the localization of these intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes could be mediated by specific interactions between adhesion molecules expressed selectively on this subpopulation of T cells and tissue-restricted adhesion molecules on epithelial cells. Here we show that heterotypic adhesive interactions between epithelial cells and intraepithelial lymphocytes in vitro are mediated by E-cadherin and the alpha E beta 7 integrin.