Although cellular adhesion molecules (CAMs) are hypothesized to play an important role in atherogenesis, the relationship between CAMs and systemic atherosclerosis is uncertain. Among 92 outpatients (48 men; mean+/-SD age, 65+/-9 years), we evaluated the association of soluble vascular CAM-1 (sVCAM-1) and intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (sICAM-1) with carotid intimal-medial thickness (IMT), an index of early atherosclerosis. All subjects underwent a 2-dimensional ultrasound examination of both carotid arteries at the distal common carotid arteries and bifurcation. sVCAM-1 and sICAM-1 levels measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay were significantly correlated with mean IMT of the common carotid artery (r=0.34 and r=0.30, respectively; P<0.01) and carotid bifurcation (r=0.31 and r=0.26, respectively; P<0.05), whereas sVCAM-1 was also positively associated with maximal carotid IMT (r=0.35, P<0.01). Adjustment for age attenuated the association between sVCAM-1 and common (r=0.16, P=0.13) and bifurcation (r=0.18, P=0.07) carotid IMT but had minimal effect on the associations between sICAM-1 and carotid measurements (r=0.32, P<0.01; r=0.23, P<0.05; for common and bifurcation IMT, respectively). Age-adjusted sICAM-1 levels increased in a stepwise fashion across common carotid IMT tertiles (253+/-27 versus 275+/-24 versus 384+/-26 pg/mL for the lowest, intermediate, and highest IMT tertiles, respectively; P<0.01). A similar trend was also found between sVCAM-1 levels and common carotid IMT tertiles (625+/-60 versus 650+/-53 versus 714+/-58 pg/mL; P<0.15). These associations were minimally affected in analyses adjusting for hypertension, diabetes, smoking, low and high density lipoprotein cholesterol, lipoprotein(a), and homocysteine, or in a subgroup analysis limited to those with no prior history of atherothrombotic disease. These data demonstrate a positive association between serum CAMs with carotid IMT and further support the hypothesis that systemic inflammation may have a role in atherosclerotic lesion development.