We have analyzed the effects of the alpha4 integrin ligands mucosal addressin cell adhesion molecule-1 (MAdCAM-1), vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), and the fibronectin CS-1 splice variant on T cell activation. Immobilized MAdCAM-1 and VCAM-1 IgG-Fc chimeras and a fibronectin CS-1 peptide efficiently costimulate T cell proliferation when antigen presentation is mimicked by anti-CD3 antibody. VCAM-1-Fc and fibronectin CS-1, which are adhesive ligands for both the alpha4beta1 and alpha4beta7 integrins, medicate T cell costimulation exclusively through integrin alpha4beta1, but not through alpha4beta7. The inability of VCAM-1-Fc to costimulate via alpha4beta7 suggests that cell adhesion per se is insufficient, and that exquisite recognition and activation events must be triggered. MAdCAM-1-Fc mediates costimulation exclusively via alpha4beta7, and can both synergize with and induce hyperresponsiveness to the classical costimulator B7-2. MAdCAM-1-Fc and VCAM-1-Fc, but not B7-2, effectively costimulate when immobilized on sites spatially distant from the anti-CD3 antibody ("remote" costimulation). In vitro, the relative potencies of the CAM were VCAM-1-Fc> ICAM-1-Fc> MAdCAM-1-Fc > B7-Fc, except at high concentrations where ICAM-1 was the most potent. Features of costimulatory CAM revealed by this study have important implications for the design of immunotherapeutic vaccine strategies to combat cancer and infection.