Cell–cell recognition

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Two cells communicating via their respective surface molecules.
Two cells communicating via their respective surface molecules.

Cell–cell recognition is a cell's ability to distinguish one type of neighboring cell from another.[1] This phenomenon occurs when complementary molecules on opposing cell surfaces meet. A receptor on one cell surface binds to its specific ligand on a nearby cell, initiating a cascade of events which regulate cell behaviors ranging from simple adhesion to complex cellular differentiation.[2] This interaction is facilitated by carbohydrates—typically glycolipids and glycoproteins—scattered over the plasma membrane. These molecules act as ligands for the complementary lectins on nearby cells.[2] It is the diversity of these complex carbohydrates (from individual to individual, and even cell to cell) and their location on the cell's surface that enable membrane carbohydrates to function as markers that distinguish one cell from another.[1]


Cell–cell recognition is critical to life and can be observed during:

  • Rejection of foreign cells by the immune system
  • Organization and cell sorting of tissues and organs during animal development in utero
  • Blood type compatibility


  1. ^ a b Campbell, et al., Biology, Eighth Edition, 2008 Pearson Education Inc.
  2. ^ a b Schnaar, Ronald L., Research Goals, "Link", 1 May 2010

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