Using a quantitative monolayer adhesion assay, the current report shows that treatment of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) with IL-6 increases their adhesiveness for blood lymphocytes, particularly CD4+ cells, but not for polymorphonuclear cells and monocytes. This effect, which was most pronounced when using low concentrations of the cytokine (0.1-1.0 U/ml) and a short incubation period (4h), was also apparent with microvascular endothelial cells and a hybrid endothelial cell line. Skin lesions from patients with mycosis fungoides contain high levels of IL-6, and blood lymphocytes from patients with this disorder also exhibited an enhanced adhesion to IL-6-treated HUVEC. The cytokine enhanced intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) expression and induced the expression of vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) and E-selectin on endothelial cells. Antibody blocking studies demonstrated that the vascular adhesion molecules ICAM-1, VCAM-1 and E-selectin and the leucocyte integrin LFA-1 all contributed to lymphocyte binding to endothelium activated by IL-6. It is proposed that IL-6 may be involved in the recruitment of lymphocytes into non-lymphoid tissue.