The B lymphocyte cell surface receptor CD22 is an adhesion molecule that can mediate binding to several leukocyte subsets. The first CD22 ligand to be identified was the receptor-linked phosphotyrosine phosphatase CD45, but several lines of evidence suggest that CD22 may interact with multiple counter receptors on adjacent lymphocytes. In the present work, we show that in addition to CD45, a soluble CD22-immunoglobulin fusion protein (CD22Rg) recognizes several other distinct lymphocyte sialoglycoproteins. CD22-mediated adhesion is dependent upon the presence of sialic acids on ligands. CD22Rg is observed to bind specifically to a 115-kDa sialoglycoprotein in COS cells transfected with an alpha-2,6-sialyltransferase cDNA, but not in COS cells transfected with unrelated cDNA clones, indicating that at least some CD22-mediated interactions require presentation of sialic acid in an alpha-2,6 linkage by CD22 ligands. In all cases, truncation of the side chain of sialic acids by mild periodate oxidation abolishes recognition by CD22Rg. Direct binding of CD22Rg to lymphoid cells also requires sialic acids and their side chains. Taken together, these observations indicate that CD22 is a sialic acid-binding lectin and may define a novel functional subset of immunoglobulin superfamily adhesion molecules.