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Recent studies have demonstrated the induced expression of endothelial adhesion molecules including E-selectin (also called endothelial leukocyte adhesion molecule-1), vascular cell adhesion molecule and intercellular adhesion molecule in actively involved mucosa of patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Similar induction has been demonstrated in the colon of the Cotton-top tamarin (CTT), a New World primate that experiences a spontaneous acute and chronic colitis resembling ulcerative colitis. To assess the potential importance of leukocyte adhesion as a necessary step in acute colitis, the effect of parenteral mAb directed against adhesion molecules on CTT colitis was evaluated in placebo-controlled blinded trials. Serial administration of either of two anti-E-selectin mAb designated BB11 and EH8 effectively coated endothelial surfaces expressing this vascular adhesion molecule. Although colitis activity was slightly diminished after the 10-d treatment period in CTT receiving either BB11 or EH8, this reduction was not significantly different than that seen in animals given a placebo control when assessed by a previously validated standardized scale of inflammatory activity: mean histologic activity grade 2.2 +/- 0.2 pretreatment vs 1.5 +/- 0.5 posttreatment in group receiving mAb and 2.1 +/- 0.1 pretreatment vs 1.3 +/- 0.5 posttreatment in the placebo group (P > 0.2). In contrast, administration of an anti-alpha 4 integrin mAb designated HP1/2 that binds VLA4 (alpha 4 beta 1) and presumably alpha 4 beta 7 integrins resulted in significant attenuation of acute colitis when compared to both pretreatment activity index (P = 0.005) and the placebo control group (P < 0.01): mean histologic activity grade 1.6 +/- 0.3 pretreatment vs 0.2 +/- 0.1 posttreatment in the group receiving HP1/2 and 1.8 +/- 0.5 pretreatment and 1.2 +/- 0.2 posttreatment in the placebo control group. These studies using a model of spontaneous colitis in the CTT demonstrate the feasibility of modulation of leukocyte-vascular adhesion and/or other integrin-mediated events possibly including T cell aggregation and T cell-stromal interactions, as well as lymphocyte homing. These results suggest both that these processes are important and possibly essential elements in sustaining acute colitis and that their disruption may result in therapeutic benefit.