Integrins are transmembrane glycoproteins that mediate cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions. Altered integrin expression may contribute to tumor progression, invasiveness and metastases. The alpha-V/beta-3 (alpha v beta 3; osteopontin/ vitronectin receptor) has recently been implicated in neovascularization and tumor-induced angiogenesis. alpha v-Subunit also associates with beta 5 to form an alpha v beta 5-complex, another vitronectin receptor. We studied tissue distribution of alpha v beta 3-and alpha v beta 5-integrins, as well as alpha 1- and beta 1-subunits in nephrectomy samples from 7 subjects with localized renal cell carcinoma. Grossly and histologically uninvolved regions ('normal') from the same nephrectomy specimens were used for comparison. Integrin expression was studied with specific monoclonal antibodies and the immunoperoxidase technique. alpha v beta 3 was expressed in the glomerular epithelial cells, Bowman's capsule, vascular endothelium, and weakly in tubular epithelial cells. alpha v beta 5 had a similar distribution except for minimal expression on vascular endothelium. alpha 1-Expression was observed in mesangium and but weakly in Bowman's capsule. beta 1-Expression was seen in glomerular epithelial cells, Bowman's capsule, vascular epithelium and tubular epithelial cells. Unlike in 'normals', neoplastic expression was more heterogeneous alpha v beta 3 was expressed in tumor cells in 4/7 cases, vascular endothelium in 6/6, and in stroma in 4/7. alpha v beta 5 was weakly expressed in tumor cells in 4/5, vascular endothelium in 5/5, and stroma in 4/5 cases. alpha 1-Expression was seen in tumor cells in 3/7, vascular endothelium in 4/7 and in stroma in 7/7 cases. beta 1-Expression was seen in tumor cells in 7/7 cases, vascular endothelium in 7/7, and in stroma in 4/7 cases. This study delineates the pattern of expression of the alpha v beta 3-and alpha v beta 5-integrins in 'normal' and neoplastic human kidney. Variations in alpha v beta 3-and alpha v beta 5-integrin expression may play a role in normal and neoplastic processes of the kidney.