T-cadherin (T-cad), an unusual glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored member of the cadherin family of cell adhesion molecules, is widely expressed in the cardiovascular system. The expression profile of T-cad within diseased (atherosclerotic and restenotic) vessels indicates some relationship between expression of T-cad and the phenotypic status of resident cells. Using cultures of human aortic smooth muscle cells (SMC) and human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) we investigate the hypothesis that T-cad may function in modulating adhesive properties of vascular cells. Coating of culture plates with recombinant T-cad protein or with antibody against the first amino-terminal domain of T-cad (anti-EC1) significantly decreased adhesion and spreading of SMC and HUVEC. HUVECs adherent on T-cad or anti-EC1 substratum exhibited an elongated morphology and associated redistribution of the cytoskeleton and focal adhesions to a distinctly peripheral location. These changes are characteristic of the less-adhesive, motile or pro-migratory, pro-angiogenic phenotype. Boyden chamber migration assay demonstrated that the deadhesion induced by T-cad facilitates cell migration towards a serum gradient. Overexpression of T-cad in vascular cells using adenoviral vectors does not influence cell adhesion or motility per se, but increases the detachment and migratory responses induced by T-cad substratum. The data suggest that T-cad acts as an anti-adhesive signal for vascular cells, thus modulating vascular cell phenotype and migration properties.