Antibody-blocking studies have demonstrated the role of CD6 in thymocyte-thymic epithelial (TE) cell adhesion. Here we report that CD6 expressed by COS cells mediates adhesion to TE cells and that this interaction is specifically blocked with an anti-CD6 monoclonal antibody (mAb) or with a mAb (J4-81) that recognized a TE cell antigen. We isolated and expressed a cDNA clone encoding this antigen and show that COS cells transfected with this cDNA bind a CD6 immunoglobulin fusion protein (CD6-Rg). This antigen, which we named ALCAM (activated leukocyte-cell adhesion molecule) because of its expression on activated leukocytes, appears to be the human homologue of the chicken neural adhesion molecule BEN/SC-1/DM-GRASP. The gene was mapped to human chromosome 3q13.1-q13.2 by fluorescence in situ hybridization of cDNA probes to metaphase chromosomes. We prepared an ALCAM-Rg fusion protein and showed that it binds to COS cell transfectants expressing CD6, demonstrating that ALCAM is a CD6 ligand. The observations that ALCAM is also expressed by activated leukocytes and that both ALCAM and CD6 are expressed in the brain suggest that ALCAM-CD6 interactions may play a role in the binding of T and B cells to activated leukocytes, as well as in interactions between cells of the nervous system.