Due to clinical efficacy and safety profile, extracorporeal photochemotherapy (ECP) is a commonly used cell treatment for patients with cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) and graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). The capacity of ECP to induce dendritic antigen-presenting cell (DC)-mediated selective immunization or immunosuppression suggests a novel mechanism involving pivotal cell signalling processes that have yet to be clearly identified as related to this procedure. In this study we employ two model systems of ECP to dissect the role of integrin signalling and adsorbed plasma proteins in monocyte-to-DC differentiation. We demonstrate that monocytes that were passed through protein-modified ECP plates adhered transiently to plasma proteins, including fibronectin, adsorbed to the plastic ECP plate and activated signalling pathways that initiate monocyte-to-DC conversion. Plasma protein adsorption facilitated 54·2 ± 4·7% differentiation, while fibronectin supported 29·8 ± 7·2% differentiation, as detected by DC phenotypic expression of membrane CD80 and CD86, as well as CD36, human leucocyte antigen D-related (HLA-DR) and cytoplasmic CD83. Further, we demonstrate the ability of fibronectin and other plasma proteins to act through cell adhesion via the ubiquitous arginine–glycine–aspartic (RGD) motif to drive monocyte-to-DC differentiation, with high-density RGD substrates supporting 54·1 ± 5·8% differentiation via αVβ3 and α5β1integrin signalling. Our results demonstrate that plasma protein binding integrins and plasma proteins operate through specific binding domains to induce monocyte-to-DC differentiation in ECP, providing a mechanism that can be harnessed to enhance ECP efficacy.