Sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P, 1) regulates vascular barrier and lymphoid development, as well as lymphocyte egress from lymphoid organs, by activating high-affinity S1P1 receptors. We used reversible chemical probes (i) to gain mechanistic insights into S1P systems organization not accessible through genetic manipulations and (ii) to investigate their potential for therapeutic modulation. Vascular (but not airway) administration of the preferred R enantiomer of an in vivo-active chiral S1P1 receptor antagonist induced loss of capillary integrity in mouse skin and lung. In contrast, the antagonist did not affect the number of constitutive blood lymphocytes. Instead, alteration of lymphocyte trafficking and phenotype required supraphysiological elevation of S1P1 tone and was reversed by the antagonist. In vivo two-photon imaging of lymph nodes confirmed requirements for obligate agonism, and the data were consistent with the presence of a stromal barrier mechanism for gating lymphocyte egress. Thus, chemical modulation reveals differences in S1P-S1P1 'set points' among tissues and highlights both mechanistic advantages (lymphocyte sequestration) and risks (pulmonary edema) of therapeutic intervention.