Chemokines: extracellular messengers for all occasions?

Bioessays. 1999 Jan;21(1):17-28. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1521-1878(199901)21:1<17::AID-BIES3>3.0.CO;2-4.


Movement of leukocytes from peripheral blood into tissues, also called leukocyte extravasation, is absolutely essential for immunity in higher organisms. Over the past decade, our understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in white blood cell extravasation during both normal immune surveillance and the generation of protective immune responses has taken a great leap forward with the discovery of the chemokine gene superfamily. Chemokines are low-molecular-weight cytokines whose major collective biological activity appears to be that of chemotaxis of both specific and overlapping subsets of leukocytes. They are therefore likely to play a critical role in the directed movement of leukocytes from the bloodstream into tissue. These molecules are almost exclusively secreted and act as extracellular messengers for the immune system. However, emerging data also show that various members of the chemokine gene superfamily exert other biological effects outside the immune system. All nucleated cells and all tissues examined to date are capable of expressing at least some chemokines, and it seems likely therefore that by the time all the chemokines are identified, and all their biological functions elucidated, we will find that, as a family, these molecules perform an extracellular messenger role in all tissues and systems of the body.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication*
  • Chemokines*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Chemokine
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Chemokines
  • Receptors, Chemokine