At the onset of inflammation, 20–80% of all leukocytes passing postcapillary venules roll along the endothelium. Recent blocking experiments with antibodies and soluble adhesion receptor molecules, as well as in vitro reconstitution experiments, suggest that leukocyte rolling is mediated by adhesion molecules that belong to the selectin family. What differentiates a selectin-counterreceptor interaction that leads to leukocyte rolling from others that mediate firm adhesion after static incubation but no adhesion when incubated under flow conditions? Here, we explore this question by introducing a quantitative biophysical model that is compatible with the laws of mechanics as applied to rolling leukocytes and the present biochemical and biophysical data on selectin mediated interactions. Our computational experiments point to an adhesion mechanism in which the rate of bond formation is high and the detachment rate low, except at the rear of the contact area where the stretched bonds detach at a high uniform rate. The bond length and bond flexibility play a critical role in enhancing leukocyte rolling at a wide range of fluid shear rates.
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