In human and experimental models of arthritis, blood monocytes migrate into the inflamed synovium and joint space. The mechanisms required for monocyte migration across the vascular endothelium in joints is poorly defined. Radiolabeled rat blood monocytes were used to measure monocyte migration to the inflamed joints of rats with adjuvant arthritis, and the role of monocyte adhesion molecules was analyzed. Monocyte accumulation in the inflamed joints was maximal 14-21 d after immunization with adjuvant, when arthritis had fully developed. Blocking mAbs to lymphocyte function-associated antigen 1 (LFA-1), Mac-1, and very late activation antigen 4 (VLA-4) were used to evaluate the role of these integrins in the migration. Migration to the joints was not inhibited by treatment of the animals with mAb to LFA-1, Mac-1, or VLA-4 alone, and was partially (50%) inhibited in only the most arthritic joint, the talar joint, by the combination of mAb to LFA-1 plus Mac-1. In contrast, this combination inhibited migration to dermal inflammation induced by C5ades Arg, endotoxin, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and polyinosine-cytosine by 60-70%. When mAbs to LFA-1 and VLA-4 were combined, migration to all the inflamed joints was strongly inhibited (80-98%, depending on the joint). Treatment with the combination of the three mAbs to LFA-1, Mac-1, and VLA-4 completely eliminated monocyte migration to all joints and dermal inflammation. The results show that 51Cr blood monocytes can be used to quantify monocyte migration to arthritic joints in the rat. LFA-1 alone or VLA-4 alone is sufficient to mediate most of this migration, and either LFA-1 or VLA-4 is required for monocyte migration to joint inflammation. These results indicate that both the VLA-4 and LFA-1 integrins should be therapeutic targets for suppression of monocyte infiltration of joints in arthritis.