Many of the components currently used to perform cardiovascular operations lead to systemic insults that result from cardiopulmonary bypass circuit-induced contact activation, circulatory shock, and resuscitation, and a syndrome similar to endotoxemia. Experimental observations have demonstrated that these events have profound effects on activating endothelial cells to recruit neutrophils from the circulation. Once adherent to the endothelium, neutrophils release cytotoxic proteases and oxygen-derived free radicals, which are responsible for much of the end-organ damage seen after cardiovascular operations. Recently the cellular and molecular mechanisms of endothelial cell activation have become increasingly understood. It is conceivable that once the molecular mechanisms of endothelial cell activation are better defined, therapies will be developed allowing the selective or collective inhibition of vascular endothelial activation during the perioperative period.