The leukocyte beta 1 integrin receptor very late activation antigen-4 (VLA-4) (alpha 4 beta 1, CD49d/CD29) binds to vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) expressed on cytokine-activated endothelium. A mAb designated 8A2 was identified that stimulated the binding of U937 cells to CHO cells transfected with VCAM-1 cDNA but not endothelial-leukocyte adhesion molecule or CD4 cDNA. mAb 8A2 also rapidly stimulated the adherence of peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs) to VCAM-1-transfected CHO cells or recombinant human tumor necrosis factor-treated human umbilical vein endothelial cells. mAb 8A2-stimulated binding of PBL was inhibited by mAbs to VLA-4 or VCAM-1. Surface expression of VLA-4 was not altered by mAb 8A2 treatment and monovalent Fab fragments of mAb 8A2 were active. Immunoprecipitation studies reveal that mAb 8A2 recognizes beta 1-subunit (CD29) of integrin receptors. In contrast to mAbs directed to VLA-4 alpha-subunit (alpha 4, CD49d), mAb 8A2 did not induce homotypic aggregation of PBL. Additionally, mAb 8A2 stimulated adherence of PBL and hematopoietic cell lines to purified matrix components laminin and fibronectin. This binding was blocked by mAbs to the VLA alpha-subunits alpha 6 (CD49f), or alpha 5 (CD49e) and alpha 4 (CD49d), respectively. We conclude that mAb 8A2 modulates the affinity of VLA-4 and other leukocyte beta 1 integrins, and should prove useful in studying the regulation of beta 1 integrin function.