Background: Cell-to-cell HIV transmission requires cellular contacts that may be in part mediated by the integrin leukocyte function antigen (LFA)-1 and its ligands intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1, -2 and -3. The role of these molecules in free virus infection of CD4 T cells or in transinfection mediated by dendritic cells (DC) has been previously described. Here, we evaluate their role in viral transmission between different HIV producing cells and primary CD4 T cells. Results: The formation of cellular conjugates and subsequent HIV transmission between productively infected MOLT cell lines and primary CD4 T cells was not inhibited by a panel of blocking antibodies against ICAM-1, ICAM-3 and α and β chains of LFA-1. Complete abrogation of HIV transmission and formation of cellular conjugates was only observed when gp120/CD4 interactions were blocked. The dispensable role of LFA-1 in HIV transmission was confirmed using non-lymphoid 293T cells, lacking the expression of adhesion molecules, as HIV producing cells. Moreover, HIV transmission between infected and uninfected primary CD4 T cells was abrogated by inhibitors of gp120 binding to CD4 but was not inhibited by blocking LFA-1 binding to ICAM-1 or ICAM-3. Rather, LFA-1 and ICAM-3 mAbs enhanced HIV transfer. All HIV producing cells (including 293T cells) transferred HIV particles more efficiently to memory than to naive CD4 T cells. Conclusion: In contrast to other mechanisms of viral spread, HIV transmission between infected and uninfected T cells efficiently occurs in the absence of adhesion molecules. Thus, gp120/CD4 interactions are the main driving force of the formation of cellular contacts between infected and uninfected CD4 T cells whereby HIV transmission occurs. © 2008 Puigdomènech et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.