Endothelial cells play a central role in chronic inflammation: for example, they express adhesion molecules and present chemokines leading to enhanced leukocyte recruitment into tissues. Numerous markers of endothelial cells have been reported but there has been a lack of comparative data on their specificity. The present study compared the specificity of seven endothelial cell markers in the rheumatoid synovium and the colon of patients with Crohn's disease. These markers were: the sulphated epitope MECA-79, the Duffy antigen receptor for chemokines (DARC), von Willebrand factor, CD31 (PECAM-1), CD34, CD105 (endoglin) and CD146. MECA-79, DARC and von Willebrand factor showed a specific endothelial cell distribution. MECA-79, which recognizes sulphated ligands for leukocyte adhesion receptor L-selectin (CD62L), was selective for a subset of venules in highly inflamed tissue and was present in rheumatoid but not control osteoarthritic synovia. DARC was also specific for venules but had a more widespread distribution than MECA-79, and was present in rheumatoid and control synovia. The other markers all labelled endothelial cells in venules, arterioles and capillaries. However, they also localized to other cell types. For example, CD34 stained fibroblasts, CD146 was expressed by the pericytes and smooth muscle cells of vessel walls and CD31 and CD105 labelled a broad range of cell types. Copyright © 2005 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.