By means of a multistage quantitative assay, we have identified a new kind of cell adhesion molecule (CAM) on neuronal cells of the chick embryo that is involved in their adhesion to glial cells. The assay used to identify the binding component (which we name neuron-glia CAM or Ng-CAM) was designed to distinguish between homotypic binding (e.g., neuron to neuron) and heterotypic binding (e.g., neuron to glia). This distinction was essential because a single neuron might simultaneously carry different CAMs separately mediating each of these interactions. The adhesion of neuronal cells to glial cells in vitro was previously found to be inhibited by Fab' fragments prepared from antisera against neuronal membranes but not by Fab' fragments against N-CAM, the neural cell adhesion molecule. This suggested that neuron-glia adhesion is mediated by specific cell surface molecules different from previously isolated CAMs . To verify that this was the case, neuronal membrane vesicles were labeled internally with 6-carboxyfluorescein and externally with 125I-labeled antibodies to N-CAM to block their homotypic binding. Labeled vesicles bound to glial cells but not to fibroblasts during a 30-min incubation period. The specific binding of the neuronal vesicles to glial cells was measured by fluorescence microscopy and gamma spectroscopy of the 125I label. Binding increased with increasing concentrations of both glial cells and neuronal vesicles. Fab' fragments prepared from anti-neuronal membrane sera that inhibited binding between neurons and glial cells were also found to inhibit neuronal vesicle binding to glial cells. The inhibitory activity of the Fab' fragments was depleted by preincubation with neuronal cells but not with glial cells. Trypsin treatment of neuronal membrane vesicles released material that neutralized Fab' fragment inhibition; after chromatography, neutralizing activity was enriched 50-fold. This fraction was injected into mice to produce monoclonal antibodies; an antibody was obtained that interacted with neurons, inhibited binding of neuronal membrane vesicles to glial cells, and recognized an Mr = 135,000 band in immunoblots of embryonic chick brain membranes. These results suggest that this molecule is present on the surfaces of neurons and that it directly or indirectly mediates adhesion between neurons and glial cells. Because the monoclonal antibody as well as the original polyspecific antibodies that were active in the assay did not bind to glial cells, we infer that neuron-glial interaction is heterophilic, i.e., it occurs between Ng-CAM on neurons and an as yet unidentified CAM present on glial cells.