Hepatic stellate cells (HSC), a pericyte-like nonparenchymal liver cell population, are regarded as the principal matrix-synthesizing cells of fibrotic liver. They might also play a role during liver inflammation. The present study analyzed (i) expression of cell adhesion molecules (CAMs) mediating cell infiltration, like intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (I-CAM-1) and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (V-CAM-1), by HSC, (ii) CAM regulation in HSC by growth factors and inflammatory cytokines, and (iii) CAM expression in situ during liver inflammation, using immunochemistry and Northern blot analysis. I-CAM-1 and V-CAM-1 expression was present in HSC in vitro and in cells located in the sinusoidal/perisinusoidal area of normal liver. Growth factors, eg, transforming growth factor-beta1, down-regulated I-CAM-1- and V-CAM-1-coding mRNAs and stimulated N-CAM expression of HSC. In contrast, inflammatory cytokines like tumor necrosis factor-alpha reduced N-CAM-coding mRNAs, whereas induction of I-CAM-1- and V-CAM-1-specific transcripts increased several fold. In situ, messengers specific for I-CAM-1 and V-CAM-1 were induced 3 hours after CCl4 treatment (thereby preceding mononuclear cell infiltration starting at 12 hours), were expressed at maximal levels 9-12 hours after CCl4 application, and decreased afterwards. I-CAM-1 and V-CAM-1 immunoreactivity increased in a linear fashion starting 3 hours after CCl4-induced liver injury, was detected in highest amounts at 24-48 hours characterized by maximal cell infiltration, and returned to baseline values at 96 hours. Interestingly, the induction/repression of CAM-specific messengers paralleled the time kinetics of tumor necrosis factor-alpha transforming growth factor-beta1 expression in injured liver. HSC might be important during the onset of hepatic tissue injury as proinflammatory elements and might interact with I-CAM-1 and V-CAM-1 ligand-bearing cells, namely lymphocyte function-associated antigen-1- or Mac-1/very late activation antigen-4-positive inflammatory cells, thereby modulating the recruitment and migration of mononuclear cells within the perisinusoidal space of diseased livers.