E-selectin, an adhesion molecule of the selectin family, is involved in leukocyte adhesion to the endothelium and in the cellular immunological reactions. Expression of this molecule, in fact, is physiologically absent, but it becomes evident on sinusoidal lining cells during inflammatory liver disease. The aim of this study was to evaluate the behavior of E-selectin in chronic hepatitis C (CH-C) patients with persistently normal transaminase in comparison to patients with CH-C and elevated transaminase, and its changes during alpha-interferon therapy. Immunohistochemical localization of E-selectin was also performed on liver tissue specimens of both groups. Fifty-eight subjects were divided into 3 groups: group A included 18 patients with CH-C and persistently normal transaminase; group B 20 patients with CH-C and persistently elevated transaminase levels and group C included 20 healthy subjects, representing the control group. The first two groups were treated with r-IFN alpha at a dose of 6 MU 3 times a week for 3 months and followed-up with 3 MU 3 times a week for another 3 months. Serum baseline values of E-selectin in groups A and B were significantly higher than those in group C (P < 0.04), but there was no difference between groups A and B. Furthermore, there was a trend toward higher E-selectin values as histological severity increased (r = 0.69; P < 0.0001). Post-treatment E-selectin serum values showed a moderate decrease in both groups, but only among responder patients; while E-selectin levels were unchanged in non responders. Immunohistochemical localization showed no staining for E-selectin in normal liver specimens, while there was a quite similar staining for E-selectin in the two groups of patients. In conclusion, this study shows that serum E-selectin levels in patients with CH-C and persistently normal transaminase are higher than in controls and they are associated with severity of liver disease. Liver of these patients express E-selectin molecules, suggesting an activation of the immune system almost identical to that of patients with CH-C and elevated transaminase. In both groups only responder patients showed a moderate decrease below baseline serum values.