Adhesion and signaling molecules controlling the transmigration of leukocytes through endothelium

Immunol Rev. 2007 Aug;218:178-96. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065X.2007.00533.x.


Migration of leukocytes into tissue is a key element of innate and adaptive immunity. While the capturing of leukocytes to the blood vessel wall is well understood, little is known about the mechanisms underlying the actual transmigration of leukocytes through the vessel wall (diapedesis). Even a basic question such as whether leukocytes migrate through openings between adjacent endothelial cells (junctional pathway) or through single endothelial cells (transcellular pathway) is still a matter of intensive debate. It is generally accepted that both pathways exist; however, whether they are of equal physiological significance is unclear. Several endothelial adhesion and signaling molecules have been identified, most of them at endothelial cell contacts, which participate in leukocyte diapedesis. A concept is evolving suggesting that transendothelial migration of leukocytes is a stepwise process. Blocking or eliminating some of the different adhesion and signaling proteins results in very different effects, such as trapping of leukocytes above endothelial cell contacts, in between endothelial cells, or between the endothelium and the underlying basement membrane. Other proteins are involved in the opening of endothelial cell contacts and yet others in their maintenance providing the barrier for extravasating leukocytes. The various molecular players and the functional steps involved in diapedesis are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / immunology*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism*
  • Cell Movement / immunology*
  • Endothelium / cytology
  • Endothelium / immunology
  • Endothelium / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / cytology*
  • Leukocytes / immunology
  • Leukocytes / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / immunology*
  • Tight Junctions / immunology
  • Tight Junctions / metabolism


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules