The tissue expressions of vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1), intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1) and endothelial leukocyte adhesion molecule 1 (E-selectin-1) were investigated in biopsy specimens from 28 patients with different stages of IgA nephropathy (IgAN) and 20 patients with acute renal failure (ARF) or chronic renal diseases (amyloidosis, Alport’s glomerulopathy) by immunohistochemistry. The results were compared with the serum levels of the three adhesion molecules. VCAM-1 expression was significantly increased on parietal/tubular epithelial cells in IgAN and ARF. Significantly elevated circulating VCAM-1 levels were measured in IgAN and amyloidosis, but did not correlate with renal function (creatinine clearance). Significantly increased glomerular endothelial/epithelial ICAM-1 expression was found in IgAN and ARF. Intense mesangial ICAM-1 expression was found in mild stages of IgAN and in Schönlein-Henoch syndrome. Circulating ICAM-1 was not significantly elevated in IgAN and different renal diseases. VCAM-1 and ICAM-1 expressions of interstitial infiltrating cells were significantly higher in severe than in mild IgAN and associated with an increased infiltration of inflammatory leukocytes. Patients with IgAN and different renal diseases had decreased mesangial and almost absent interstitial E-selectin expression as compared with controls. The circulating E-selectin levels were significantly elevated in ARF. In conclusion, the tissue expression of adhesion molecules in IgAN reflects a continuous inflammatory renal activity. However, only increased circulating VCAM-1 serum levels correlated significantly with the histological state of renal inflammation and could be used as a disease marker.