The changes in vascular adhesion molecule expression and numbers of infiltrating leukocytes during a 21-day experimental gingivitis episode were investigated immunohistochemically. Monoclonal antibodies to ELAM-l (1.2B6), ICAM-l (6.5B5), CD3 (OKT3 - pan-T cell) and neutrophils (PMN-elastase) were used to identify positive vessels and leukocytes within gingival biopsies taken on d 0, 7, 14 and 21. Vascular endothelium expressed ELAM-1 and ICAM-1 both in clinically ‘healthy’ tissue (d 0) and in experimentally inflamed tissue (d 7 to 21). Positive vessels were found mainly in the connective tissue subjacent to the junctional epithelium where the highest numbers of T cells and neutrophils were also seen. Although T cells were found in all tissue areas studied, neutrophils were largely concentrated in the junctional epithelium and the subjacent connective tissue but were absent from the oral epithelial region. As the experimental gingivitis developed, the number of T cells or neutrophils in the different tissue regions did not change significantly although the most intense vascular ICAM-1 and ELAM-1 staining redistributed to the CT adjacent to the junctional epithelium. A prominent feature was the intense ICAM-1-positive staining of the junctional epithelium and its absence in the closely adjacent oral epithelium, in both clinically ‘healthy’ and inflamed tissue. The gradient of ICAM-1 in junctional epithelium, with the strongest staining on the crevicular aspect plus the vascular expression of ELAM-1 and ICAM-1 in both clinically ‘healthy’ and inflamed tissue may be crucial processes which direct leukocyte migration towards the gingival crevice.