Macrophage subpopulations in the mouse express a lectin-like receptor, sialoadhesin (originally named sheep erythrocyte receptor, SER), which selectively recognizes sialoglycoconjugates and is likely to be involved in cellular interactions of stromal macrophages in haematopoietic and lymphoid tissues. In this report we describe the purification and ligand specificity of sialoadhesin isolated from mouse spleen. Purified sialoadhesin, a glycoprotein of 185 kd apparent Mr, agglutinated sheep or human erythrocytes at nanomolar concentrations in a sialic acid-dependent manner. Low angle shadowing and electron microscopy showed that sialoadhesin consisted of a globular head region of approximately 9 nm and an extended tail of approximately 35 nm. To investigate the specificity for sialic acid, we studied the interaction of sialoadhesin with derivatized human erythrocytes, glycoproteins, and glycolipids. In conclusion, sialoadhesin specifically recognizes the oligosaccharide sequence Neu5Ac alpha 2----3Gal beta 1----3GalNAc in either sialoglycoproteins or gangliosides. These findings imply that specific sialoglycoconjugates carrying this structure may be involved in cellular interactions between stromal macrophages and subpopulations of haematopoietic cells and lymphocytes.