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The ability of cells to interact with each other and their surroundings in a co-ordinated manner depends on multiple adhesive interactions between neighbouring cells and their extracellular environment. These adhesive interactions are mediated by a family of cell surface proteins, termed cell adhesion molecules. Fortunately these adhesion molecules fall into distinct families with adhesive interactions varying in strength from strong binding involved in the maintenance of tissue architecture to more transient, less avid, dynamic interactions observed in leukocyte biology. Adhesion molecules are extremely versatile cell surface receptors which not only stick cells together but provide biochemical and physical signals that regulate a range of diverse functions, such as cell proliferation, gene expression, differentiation, apoptosis and migration. In addition, like many other cell surface molecules, they have been usurped as portals of entry for pathogens, including prions. How the mechanical and chemical messages generated from adhesion molecules are integrated with other signalling pathways (such as receptor tyrosine kinases and phosphatases) and the role that aberrant cell adhesion plays in developmental defects and disease pathology are currently very active areas of research. This review focuses on the biochemical features that define whether a cell surface molecule can act as an adhesion molecule, and discusses five specific examples of how cell adhesion molecules function as more than just 'sticky' receptors. The discussion is confined to the signalling events mediated by members of the integrin, cadherin and immunoglobulin gene superfamilies. It is suggested that, by controlling the membrane organization of signalling receptors, by imposing spatial organization, and by regulating the local concentration of cytosolic adapter proteins, intercellular and cell-matrix adhesion is more than just glue holding cells together. Rather dynamic 'conversations' and the formation of multi-protein complexes between adhesion molecules, growth factor receptors and matrix macromolecules can now provide a molecular explanation for the long-observed but poorly understood requirement for a number of seemingly distinct cell surface molecules to be engaged for efficient cell function to occur.


Journal article


Mol membr biol

Publication Date





167 - 176


Animals, Cell Adhesion, Cell Adhesion Molecules, Chemotaxis, Epithelium, Growth Substances, Integrins, Leukocytes, Models, Biological, Platelet Endothelial Cell Adhesion Molecule-1