OBJECTIVE: To determine whether chemotactic-metastasis, the preferential growth of melanomas towards areas of high lymphatic density, is CCL21/CCR7 dependent in vivo. Lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) produce the chemokine CCL21. Metastatic melanoma cells express CCR7, its receptor, and exhibit chemotactic-metastasis, whereby metastatic cells recognise and grow towards areas of higher lymphatic density. METHODS: We used two in vivo models of directional growth towards depots of LECs of melanoma cells over-expressing CCR7. Injected LEC were tracked by intravital fluorescence microscopy, and melanoma growth by bioluminescence. RESULTS: Over-expression of the chemokine receptor CCR7 enables non-metastatic tumor cells to recognise and grow towards LECs (3.9 fold compared with control), but not blood endothelial cells (0.9 fold), in vitro and in vivo in the absence of increased lymphatic clearance. Chemotactic metastasis was inhibited by a CCL21 neutralising antibody (4-17% of control). Furthermore, CCR7 expression in mouse B16 melanomas resulted in in-transit metastasis (50-100% of mice) that was less often seen with control tumors (0-50%) in vivo. CONCLUSION: These results suggest that recognition of LEC by tumors expressing receptors for lymphatic specific ligands contributes towards the identification and invasion of lymphatics by melanoma cells and provides further evidence for a chemotactic metastasis model of tumor spread.