Adhesive and repellent molecular cues guide migrating cells and growing neurites during development. They also contribute to synaptic function, learning and memory in adulthood. Here, we review the roles of cell adhesion molecules of the immunoglobulin superfamily (Ig-CAMs) and semaphorins (some of which also contain Ig-like domains) in regulation of synaptic transmission and plasticity. Interestingly, among the seven studied Ig-CAMs, the neuronal cell adhesion molecule proved to be important for all tested forms of hippocampal plasticity, while its associated unusual glycan polysialic acid is necessary and sufficient part for synaptic plasticity only at CA3-CA1 synapses. In contrast, Thy-1 and L1 specifically regulate long-term potentiation (LTP) at synapses formed by entorhinal axons in the dentate gyrus and cornu ammonis, respectively. Contactin-1 is important for long-term depression but not for LTP at CA3-CA1 synapses. Analysis of CHL1-deficient mice illustrates that at intermediate stages of development a deficit in a cell adhesion molecule is compensated but appears as impaired LTP during early and late postnatal development. The emerging mechanisms by which adhesive Ig-CAMs contribute to synaptic plasticity involve regulation of activities of NMDA receptors and L-type Ca2+ channels, signaling via mitogen-activated protein kinase p38, changes in GABAergic inhibition and motility of synaptic elements. Regarding repellent molecules, available data for semaphorins demonstrate their activity-dependent regulation in normal and pathological conditions, synaptic localization of their receptors and their potential to elevate or inhibit synaptic transmission either directly or indirectly.