Peripheral blood leukocytes infiltrate the kidney in chronic serum sickness (CSS). We therefore studied the expression of CD54 and its ligands CD18 and CD11b/c in CSS in 10 rats with CSS, 6 rats immunized similarly who did not developed proteinuria (no-CSS group), and 10 normal rats (control group). Intense (6 to 35 times more than controls) leukocyte infiltration was observed in CSS. The CSS group over-expressed CD54 in glomeruli and interstitium in association with increments in CD18- and CD11b/c-positive cells ranging 2.5 to 7 times the number found in controls. 75% of infiltrating leukocytes expressed CD18 and 87% expressed CD11b/c. The non- CSS group had leukocyte infiltration and expression of adhesion molecules similar to control group. Adherence of CD43-positive cells to renal tissues was 4 times higher in renal tissue from CSS rats than to normal kidney. Pretreatment with corresponding Mabs reduced adherence by half. We concluded that over-expression of CD54 and its ligands CD18 and CD11b/c in infiltrating leukocytes occur in CSS. Binding experiments suggest the functional relevance of these molecules.