Human polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) were shown to possess specific binding sites for lipoteichoic acid (LTA). LTA binding was reversible and time and temperature dependent. Scatchard plot analysis revealed an apparently single population of 6.6 X 10(6) LTA binding sites per PMN with a dissociation constant of 5.6 microM. Attachment of an avirulent, unencapsulated, M-negative strain of group A streptococci to PMN was inhibited by LTA, but not by other bacterial somatic antigens tested. Occupation of 30% of the LTA binding sites resulted in greater than 70% inhibition of streptococcal attachment to PMN. In contrast, LTA failed to block attachment of Escherichia coli or antibody-coated streptococci, indicating that binding sites for E. coli and the Fc portion of immunoglobulin G are distinct from those for LTA. Immunofluorescent studies demonstrated that LTA remained uniformly bound to PMN membranes for as long as 2 h at 37 degrees C. Cross-linking of PMN-bound LTA with anti-LTA resulted in rapid capping of LTA receptor sites. The results suggest that LTA is a monovalent ligand interacting with mobile receptors in the plasma membrane of PMN.