BACKGROUND: beta7 integrins mediate homing and retention of lymphocytes to the normal and inflamed small bowel in a tissue-selective fashion. In the present study, we investigated the expression of beta7 integrins after small bowel transplantation (SBT) and tested the effects of blocking beta7-mediated pathways by using monoclonal antibody (mAb) or knockout mice. METHODS: Heterotopic SBT from BALB/c to C57BL/6 (B6) was used as a surgical model. Expression of beta7 integrins was measured on recipient lymphocytes (CD4 and CD8 ) in spleen, blood, and mesenteric lymph nodes (MLN) using flow cytometry. To analyze the effects of blocking beta7 integrins on graft survival, either beta7-deficient B6 or wild-type B6 mice that were treated with mAb against beta7 were studied. RESULTS: After allogeneic SBT, there were markedly increased levels of alpha4beta7 recipient CD8 lymphocytes in MLN, blood, and spleen as early as 3 days postoperatively. In contrast, alpha4beta7 integrin levels in isograft recipients were similar to those of normal mice. Mean survival time of intestinal allografts was not affected by beta7 deficiency (7.3+/-1 days) compared with wild-type mice (7.5+/-0.8 days). However, mAb against beta7 integrins significantly prolonged graft survival (12.8+/-1 days) compared with treatment with control mAb (7.3+/-1 days, <0.001). Histologic changes of SBT rejection were significantly attenuated when mice were given mAb against beta7. CONCLUSION: As indicated by the increased levels of alpha4beta7 CD8 lymphocytes, activation of this integrin contributes to the immune response in SBT rejection. Furthermore, blocking beta7 integrins with mAb provides a suitable target for immunosuppressive therapy. The discrepancy in survival data obtained by mAb and beta7 deficiency may be a result of the more rapid activation of compensatory mechanisms in the knockout mice.