Using monoclonal antibody (mAb) M-Kid 2 to the alpha 3 beta 1 heterodimer, we have evaluated immunohistochemically the in vivo expression of the Vla-3 integrin in normal and transformed non-lymphoid human tissues. In normal tissues the alpha 3 beta 1 complex displays a polarized distribution at the baso-lateral aspect of most keratinizing and glandular epithelia. In addition the integrin is detected in perineurium, basal lamina of smooth muscular fibers, vascular media, podocytes and Bowman's capsule, myoepithelial cells of the parotid and breast, and in pulmonary alveoli. Neoplastic transformation is associated with qualitative and quantitative changes in expression of this integrin. The loss of polarized distribution often occurs in various malignancies. Furthermore, a significant decrease in expression occurs in 13% of the colon-rectum carcinomas, 75% of the ductal invasive, and 40% of the lobular invasive breast carcinomas. Among the lung malignancies tested, the small cell lung carcinomas (SCLC) were found to be consistently unreactive with mAb M-Kid 2. Analysis of Vla-3 expression in established tumor cell lines demonstrated that the integrin is almost invariably expressed by the plastic adherent cell subpopulations.