The alpha 2 beta 1 integrin (platelet membrane glycoprotein Ia-IIa, VLA-2, ECMR-II) functions as a cell surface receptor for collagen. The authors have determined the histologic distribution of the alpha 2 beta 1 receptor in normal tissues by immunohistochemical technique. The studies revealed that the alpha 2 beta 1 receptor was expressed on fibroblasts, endothelial cells, and epithelial cells from multiple sites including skin, tonsil, breast, sweat gland, gastrointestinal tract, lung, bladder, cervix, and prostate. Follicular dendritic cells of the lymph node, tonsil, and spleen and dendritic cells of the thymus also expressed the alpha 2 beta 1 receptor. The receptor also was present on Schwann cells of ganglia and on neuroglia. Greatly enhanced expression of the receptor in regions of proliferating epithelium suggests that enhanced expression of alpha 2 beta 1 is associated with orderly, regulated cell proliferation. The circumferential staining pattern of the alpha 2 beta 1 integrin within many epithelia is virtually identical to that observed for other adhesive receptors, such as the cadherins, which have been implicated in cell-cell adhesion.