To date, six families of cell adhesion molecules are known. These are cell surface receptors that mediate adhesion of cells to each other or to components of the extracellular matrix and include integrins, selectins, the immunoglobulin superfamily, cadherins, proteoglycans and mucins. These cell adhesion molecules play a key role in cell-cell interaction (such as among endothelium, monocytes, smooth muscle cells and platelets) and cell-extracellular matrix interaction (such as between leukocytes, platelets or fibroblasts and the extracellular matrix). The importance of these interactions has recently been demonstrated in clinical trials with the use of an antibody fragment directed against the platelet alpha IIb beta IIIa integrin, with reduction of arterial thrombosis and restenosis after percutaneous coronary interventions. A fundamental role for cell adhesion molecules has been suggested for several other relevant disease processes, including atherosclerosis, acute coronary syndromes, reperfusion injury and allograft vasculopathy. This review focuses on providing the clinically relevant biology of these families of adhesion molecules, setting the foundation for delineation of their emerging role in cardiovascular therapeutics.