The molecules B7.1 and B7.2 deliver costimulatory signals of critical importance to naive T cells, and may thus be involved in abrogation of oral tolerance in IBD. Functional disparity apparently exists among antigen-presenting cells in vivo. We wanted to examine if differential B7 expression occurs on mucosal macrophage subsets. Cryosections of bowel specimens from patients with IBD and normal controls were subjected to immunofluorescence and immunoperoxidase staining. In normal mucosa, selective subepithelial accumulation of B7.2+ cells was found. In inflamed IBD mucosa, however, subsets appeared consisting of both B7.2(hi) and B7.1(hi) cells as well as CD14(hi) macrophages. Notably, outside lymphoid aggregates the prominent fraction of recently recruited CD14(hi) macrophages comprised most (approximately 80%) of the B7.1(hi) cells, whereas most (approximately 70%) B7.2(hi) cells were identified as resident mucosal macrophages (CD14(lo) or CD14-). Differential expression of B7.1 and B7.2 on two functionally different subsets of intestinal macrophages implies separate immunoregulatory roles for the two molecules. This finding is in keeping with recent experimental data demonstrating that monocyte-derived cells are crucial for immune responses at mucosal surfaces. Preferential B7.1 up-regulation might be critical in breaking the immunological tolerance to luminal antigens in IBD, but it cannot be excluded that it is a secondary pathogenic event.