The ability of leucocytes to adhere to endothelium is essential for leucocyte migration into inflammatory sites. Some of these adhesion molecules are released from the cell surface and can be detected in serum. The soluble adhesion molecules intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1), E selectin, and vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1) were studied in the serum of patients with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and healthy controls. A second blood sample was taken from patients with active disease after one month of treatment and a third two months after remission was achieved. Tissue expression of the same adhesion molecules was studied by immunohistology. Circulating VCAM-1 concentrations were significantly higher in patients with active ulcerative colitis (n = 11, median = 165 U/ml) compared with patients with inactive ulcerative colitis (n = 10, median = 117 U/ml, p < 0.005), active Crohn's disease (n = 12, median = 124 U/ml, p < 0.02), and controls (n = 90, median = 50 U/ml, p < 0.0001). Within each disease group there were no significant differences in E selectin or ICAM-1 concentrations between the active and inactive states, however, patients with active Crohn's disease had significantly higher ICAM-1 concentrations (n = 12, median = 273 ng/ml) than controls (n = 28, median = 168, p < 0.003). VCAM-1 concentrations fell significantly from pretreatment values to remission in active ulcerative colitis (p < 0.01). In Crohn's disease there was a significant fall in ICAM-1 both during treatment (p < 0.01) and two months after remission (p < 0.02). Vascular expression of ICAM-1 occurred more often and was more intense in inflamed tissue sections from patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease than from controls. Vascular labelling with antibody to E selectin also occurred more often in patients with active inflammatory bowel disease. In conclusion, increased circulating concentrations of selected adhesion molecules are associated with inflammatory bowel disease. There is also evidence of local upregulation, particularly of ICAM-1. Differential expression of adhesion molecules in tissue may play a part in the initiation of leucocyte migration and local inflammation; the function of circulating adhesion molecules is unknown, but may play a physiological part in blocking adhesion.
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