The role of leukocyte function-associated Ag-1 (LFA-1) (CD11a/CD18) in T cell-endothelial cell (EC) interactions was assessed by utilizing CD11a/CD18-deficient T cell clones generated from a patient with leukocyte adhesion deficiency (LAD). The ability of these clones to bind to and migrate through monolayers of EC in vitro was compared with that of clones generated in a similar manner from normal controls. The LAD clones bound to EC to a similar extent as the controls. The contribution of other cell surface adhesion molecules was assessed with mAb blocking experiments. It was found that part of the EC binding by these CD11a/CD18-deficient clones was mediated by an interaction of very late Ag-4 (VLA-4) with vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) on the EC. In contrast to their normal ability to bind to EC, the capacity of the LAD clones to migrate through EC monolayers was significantly less than that of the control clones. This impairment in migration was not related to decreased intrinsic motility. Moreover, neither phorbol ester stimulation of the LAD clones nor IL-1 stimulation of the EC increased the capacity of the clones to migrate through EC monolayers, although binding to EC was augmented by both treatments. Only a minimal percentage of the migration of either control or LAD clones was inhibited by mAb to VLA-4 or VCAM-1. These data demonstrate that LFA-1 plays a central role in the transendothelial migration of T cells. In the absence of LFA-1, T cells retain the ability to bind to EC because of the activity of other receptor/ligand pairs, including VLA-4/VCAM-1. Finally, it is likely that, during both binding and transendothelial migration of T cells, additional cell surface molecules play a role.