Lymphocyte migration to inflammatory sites is an essential factor in the pathogenesis of chronic inflammation. An ensemble of adhesion receptors mediating lymphocyte-endothelial cell recognition and binding are thought to play a crucial role in this process. In the present study, we have explored the molecular basis of lymphocyte adhesion to endothelium in the synovial membrane of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. We established that the very late antigen-4 [VLA-4 (CD49d)] and the vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) are important mediators of binding to synovial endothelium of resting and, to a greater extent, of activated T lymphocytes, whereas the leukocyte-function associated antigen-1 [LFA-1 (CD11a/18)]/intercellular adhesion molecule-1 [ICAM-1 (CD54)] pathway is less important in this interaction. In contrast to its prominent role in lymphocyte interaction with endothelium in rheumatoid synovium, the VLA-4/VCAM-1 pathway does not significantly contribute to lymphocyte adhesion to peripheral lymph node high endothelial venule. Thus, the VLA-4/VCAM-1 pathway may be of primary importance in mediating lymphocyte adhesion to inflamed endothelium and in lymphocyte homing to rheumatoid synovium.

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