Summary The mitogenic response of human lymphocytes was found to be markedly reduced in weightlessness conditions as compared to normal gravity. One possible explanation is that due to the non-existent sedimentation in space the lymphocytes could not adhere and spread on a substratum. Thus, we investigated the effect of substratum adhesiveness on lymphocyte responsiveness by reducing and blocking cell adhesion with poly-HEMA in a simple on-ground system. Lymphocyte adhesiveness was assessed by measuring the proportion of non-adhesive, slightly, and strongly adhesive 51Cr-radiolabelled cells on uncoated and poly-HEMA coated plastic. The amount of cell spreading on surfaces with varying adhesiveness was determined by measuring the area of cells. Cells grown on medium and thick poly-HEMA films were rounded in shape. By contrast, on tissue culture plastic, they showed clear signs of spreading. The mitogenic response of lymphocytes grown on thick poly-HEMA films was reduced by up to 68% of the control (tissue culture plastic). Interferon-γ production was virtually nil when the cells were grown on the least adhesive substratum. These results show that activated lymphocytes need to anchor and spread prior to achieving an optimal proliferation response. We conclude that decreased lymphocyte adhesion could contribute to the depressed in vitro lymphocyte responsiveness found in the microgravity conditions of space flight.