Using a whole-limb graft model in rats, morphologic changes and variations in the expression of Ia antigen on epidermal cells were investigated in the allografted skin during acute rejection. BN right limbs were transplanted to F344 recipients. Skin tissues were excised during acute rejection on days 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 after the transplantation. Sections were examined for Ia antigen expression using immunohistologic techniques, and in situ quantification of Ia antigen was made using an immunogold method. Epidermal keratinocytes expressed Ia antigen before the grafts were rejected and the amount of Ia antigen expression increased and exceeded the amount of Ia antigen of Langerhans cells during the course of rejection. The progressive increase in class II antigen expression on EKs correlated with the appearance and relative accumulation of dermal lymphocytic cells. On the other hand, Ia antigen was not expressed on vascular endothelial cells during rejection. Our results suggest that the Ia-positive keratinocytes can serve as target cells in skin rejection of limb allografts. The immunogold technique we used seems most pertinent for a quantitative examination of cell-surface antigens in situ.