Topical exposure to sulfur mustard (HD), a known theat agent, produces persistent and debilitating cutaneous blisters. The blisters occur at the dermal-epidermal junction following a dose-dependent latent period of 8-24 h, however, the primary lesions causing vesication remain uncertain. Immunofluorescent images reveal that a 5-min exposure to 400 (mu) M HD disrupts molecules that are also disrupted by epidermolysis bullosa-type blistering diseases of the skin. Using keratinocyte cultures and fluorochomes conjugated to two different keratin-14 (K14) antibodies (clones CKB1 and LL002), results have shown a statistically significant (p<0.1) 1-h decrease of 29.2% in expression of the CKB1 epitope, a nearly complete loss of CKB1 expression within 2 h, and progressive cytoskeletal (K14) collapse without loss in expression of the LL002 epitope. With human epidermal tissues, multi-photon images of (alpha) 6 integrin and laminin 5 showed disruptive changes in the cell-surface organization and integrity of these adhesion molecules. At 1 H postexposure, analyses showed a statistically significant (p<0.1) decrease of 27.3% in (alpha) 6 integrin emissions, and a 32% decrease in laminin 5 volume. Multi-photon imaging indicates that molecules essential for epidermal-dermal attachment are early targets in the alkylating events leading to HD-induced vesication.