In complex organisms, cells are often dependent on their extracellular matrix (ECM) for structural integrity, the mechanical properties of tissues, and for signaled regulation of cellular processes including adhesion, migration, growth, secretion, gene expression and apoptosis. Achieving dynamic control, i.e. by using an external stimulus, over the interactions between cells and artificial interfaces holds considerable promise in tissue engineering, medicine, cell biology and immunology. For example, improved spatial control over cell-surface interaction is potentially useful in the design of cell-based screening devices. Dynamic control over SAMs for cell adhesion provides an additional handle to direct and study the attachment of cells to surfaces, e.g., in studying cell spreading from a predetermined pattern in order to screen the cytotoxicity of drug candidates. However, 'reversible' control of cell adhesion onto substrates is an area that is still in its infancy. In this critical review recent developments in cell adhesion of mammalian cells to SAM-modified surfaces, the physical properties of which can be controlled by an external stimulus, e.g. by light, electrochemistry, etc., are discussed (118 references).