Abstract We review the literature on the reaction of cells to their surrounding topography. The topography may be that of surrounding cells, intercellular materials or biomaterials. The reactions include cell orientation, rates of movement, and activations of the cells. We concentrate on those papers where quantitative measurements of the reactions have been made and largely ignore those on subjective impressions. A wide range of topographies are considered but special attention is given to results on groove-ridge topographies. The question of whether the cells are reacting to the topography directly or to patterned substratum chemistry formed on the topography is discussed. The review ends with a summary of the types of prosthesis where advantage has been taken of the ability to fabricate topography.