The interaction of latex microspheres with mouse Peyer's patch membranous M-cells was studied in a mouse gut loop model after the microspheres were coated with a variety of agents. Carboxylated microspheres (diameter 0.5 micron) were covalently coated with lectins Ulex europaeus 1, Concanavalin A, Euonymus europaeus and Bandeiraea simplicifolia 1 isolectin-B4, human immunoglobulin A or bovine serum albumin. Of the treatments examined, only Ulex europaeus (UEA1) resulted in significant selective binding of microspheres to M-cells. UEA1-coated microspheres bound to M-cells at a level 100-fold greater than BSA-coated microspheres, but binding to enterocytes was unaffected. Incubation of UEA1-coated microspheres with alpha-L-fucose reduced M-cell binding to a level comparable with BSA-coated microspheres. This indicated that targeting by UEA1 was via a carbohydrate receptor on the M-cell surface. Adherence of UEA1-coated microspheres to M-cells occurred within 10 min of inoculation into mouse gut loops and UEA1-coated microspheres were transported to 10 microns below the apical surface of M-cells within 60 min of inoculation. UEA1-coated microspheres also targeted mouse Peyer's patch M-cells after intragastric administration. These results demonstrated that altering the surface chemistry of carboxylated polystyrene microspheres increased M-cell targeting, suggesting a strategy to enhance delivery of vaccine antigens to the mucosal immune system.