The leukocyte integrin alpha 4 beta 7 is a receptor for the vascular mucosal addressin cell adhesion molecule-1 (MAdCAM-1). Most circulating B and T lymphocytes in man are alpha 4+, and on these cells the regulated display of the beta 7 integrin chain determines the expression of alpha 4 beta 7 and, in large part, binding to MAdCAM-1. Among CD4+ T cells, beta 7 high memory cells (including the L-selectin+ subset) bind MAdCAM-1 better than beta 7int naive cells; whereas beta 7- memory cells,including skin homing lymphocytes, interact poorly if at all. Circulating alpha E beta 7+ T cells are alpha 4 beta 7high and also bind MAdCAM-1 well. B cells are also subdivided by beta 7 expression, and beta 7+ B cells bind MAdCAM-1 better than the beta 7low/- subset. The related vascular ligand vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), expressed on endothelium primarily in nonmucosal sites of inflammation, interacts with blood lymphocytes (including beta 7high T cells) almost exclusively via alpha 4 beta 1 and binds beta 7low/-(beta 1high) better than beta 7+ B cells and memory cells better than naive CD4+ cells. beta 7-(beta 1high) memory T cells are somewhat enriched over beta 7high memory cells at low (but not at high) VCAM-1 densities. Interestingly, CD56+ NK cells, which express both alpha 4 beta 7 and alpha 4 beta 1, bind well to VCAM-1 but poorly to MAdCAM-1. The findings indicate that the display and function of alpha 4 beta 7 determine integrin-dependent blood lymphocyte interactions with MAdCAM-1, thus delineating discrete mucosal vs nonmucosal lymphocyte populations in vivo; that alpha 4 beta 1 dominates blood lymphocyte interactions with VCAM-1; and that quantitative and qualitative regulation of MAdCAM-1 vs VCAM-1 can critically control the recruitment of specialized lymphocyte subsets during inflammation.