Vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) is induced on endothelial cells by inflammatory cytokines, and binds mononuclear leukocytes through the integrin very late antigen-4 (VLA-4) (alpha 4 beta 1). This adhesion pathway has been implicated in a diverse group of physiological and pathological processes, including B cell development, leukocyte activation and recruitment to sites of inflammation, atherosclerosis, and tumor cell metastasis. The major form of VCAM-1 (VCAM-7D) has seven extracellular immunoglobulin (Ig)-like domains, of which the three NH2-terminal domains (domains 1-3) are similar in amino acid sequence to domains 4-6. By functional analysis of VCAM-7D relative to VCAM-6D (a minor 6-domain form of VCAM-1 in which domain 4 is deleted because of alternative splicing), and chimeric constructs between VCAM-1 and its structural relative intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), we show that either the first or the homologous fourth domain of VCAM-1 is required for VLA-4-dependent adhesion. Either of these binding sites can function in the absence of the other. When both are present, cell binding activity is increased relative to monovalent forms of the molecule. The homologous binding regions appear to have originated by internal duplication of a portion of a monovalent ancestral gene, before the mammalian radiation. Thus VCAM-1 exemplifies evolution of a functionally bivalent cell-cell adhesion molecule by intergenic duplication. We have also produced a new class of anti-VCAM-1 monoclonal antibodies that block domain 4-dependent adhesion, and demonstrate that both binding sites participate in the adhesion function of VCAM-1 on endothelial cells in vitro. Therefore both sites must be blocked in clinical, animal, or in vitro studies depending on the use of anti-VCAM-1 antibodies to inactivate the VCAM-1/VLA-4 adhesion pathway.

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