Adhesion Molecules

Margaret A Adelsman and Yoji Shimizu, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Center for Immunology, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

In 1922, biologist Warren Lewis wrote, if 'cells (were) to lose their stickiness for one another and for the supporting extracellular white fibers, reticuli, etc., our bodies would at once disintegrate and flow off onto the ground. ... The so-called cement, so commonly described as existing between various types of cells, may possibly be an adhesive substance'. Over 75 years later, we now know that this necessity for cells to adhere to their surroundings or to their cellular neighbors is reflected in the vast array of molecules identified that mediate cell adhesion. In the immune system, adhesion molecules are essential to many, if not all, aspects of leukocyte function, including normal recirculation of lymphocytes through lymphoid organs, recruitment of leukocytes into inflammatory sites, antigen-specific recognition, and wound healing. Defects in adhesion molecule expression can result in immunodeficiency, and the central role of adhesion molecules in the immune system suggests that adhesion can be used as a therapeutic strategy for intentional modulation of the immune response.

Five main structural families of adhesion molecules have been identified: integrins, immunoglobulin superfamily (IgSF) proteins, selectins, mucins and cadherins (Table 1). This discussion will focus on an introduction to the structure and function of these adhesion molecules, followed by emerging concepts of how the distinct functions of these many adhesive proteins are integrated to mediate key immunological processes.

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