Background Elevated levels of soluble vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (sVCAM-1) and soluble E-selectin (sE-selectin) have previously been reported in patients with various inflammatory diseases, but not in patients with polymyositis/dermatomyositis (PM/DM). Objectives To determine serum levels and significance of sVCAM-1 and sE-selectin in patients with PM/DM. Patients and methods Serum samples from 36 PM/DM patients, 30 patients with systemic sclerosis and 25 healthy control subjects were examined using specific enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay systems. Results The serum levels of sVCAM-1 in the PM/DM patients were significantly higher than those in the healthy controls. The elevated serum sVCAM-1 levels were correlated with the values of elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate and elevated serum hyaluronate levels in the PM/DM patients. The serum sE-selectin levels in the PM/DM patients were also significantly higher than those in the healthy controls. The elevated serum sE-selectin levels were correlated with the incidence of elevated creatine kinase activities. The concentrations of serum sE-selectin were correlated with the serum tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 concentrations in the PM/DM patients (r = 0·53). Conclusions These results suggest that serum sVCAM-1 and sE-selectin levels might be useful for detecting disease activity in patients with PM/DM.