Human colorectal cancer cells were incubated with medium containing 4-methylumbelliferyl-beta-D-xyloside (Xyl-MU). The cells synthesized Xyl-MU-derivatives which were detected in the culture medium by gel-filtration high-performance liquid chromatography. These included a Xyl-MU-induced glycosaminoglycan and its biosynthetic intermediates, Galbeta1-4Xylbeta1-MU and Galbeta1-3Galbeta1-4Xylbeta1-MU, and other Xyl-MU-induced oligosaccharides, not related to Xyl-MU-induced glycosaminoglycan, were also synthesized. One of these oligosaccharides, sulfate-O-3GlcAbeta1-4Xylbeta1-MU, reacted with HNK-1, a mouse monoclonal antibody raised against human natural killer cells. Human neural cells and skin fibroblasts have also been reported to synthesize HNK-1-reactive sugar chains. Since HNK-1-reactive sugar chains are known to be involved in cell adhesion in the nervous system, the present results suggest that epithelium-derived colorectal cancer cells might also be able to utilize them in cell adhesion.