The accumulation of mononuclear cells at sites of chronic inflammation is dependent on a number of factors including localized adherence of lymphocytes to vascular endothelial cells (EC), cytokine-mediated increased adhesiveness of endothelium, chemotactic factors and endothelial permeability. The present study investigates two of the above attributes of lymphocyte-EC interaction: namely, the ability of maturationally distinct subpopulations of human T lymphocytes to adhere to vascular EC and to increase vascular endothelial permeability to macromolecules in an in vitro model. Thus, human T lymphocytes were separated into CD4+ CD8-helper/inducer, CD4- CD8+ cytotoxic/suppressor, CD29+ CD45RA- CD45RO+ memory, and CD29- CD45RA+ CD45RO- naive/virgin T subpopulations, were activated with PHA and PMA, and then examined for their adherence to EC and also for their effect on endothelial permeability. Upon activation, cells within each of the above four subpopulations exhibited increased adherence to EC. In contrast, resting CD29+ CD45RA- CD45RO+ memory T lymphocytes exhibited two to three times greater ability to adhere to EC than their CD29- CD45RA+ CD45RO- naive/virgin counterparts. Consistent with their increased adherence to EC, CD29+ CD45RO+ memory T lymphocytes, when activated, significantly increased endothelial permeability to albumin. Although activated CD45RA+ naive T lymphocytes exhibited increased adherence to EC, these cells failed to increase significantly endothelial permeability. Similar to their polyclonal counterparts, Ag-specific CD4+ CD29+ CD45RO+ T cell clones, but not their actively released mediators, also increased endothelial permeability via a noncytolytic mechanism(s). This ability of CD29+ CD45RO+ memory T lymphocytes to augment endothelial permeability may facilitate their transendothelial migration into extravascular space. These observations may provide additional insights into molecular mechanism(s) underlying pathophysiology of localized chronic inflammatory responses in general and more specifically selective accumulation of CD29+/CD45RO+ memory T lymphocytes at sites of chronic inflammation such as rheumatoid synovium.