Sialic acids from sialoglycoconjugates present at the cell surface of Cryptococcus neoformans yeast forms were analyzed by high-performance thin-layer chromatography, binding of influenza A and C virus strains, enzymatic treatment, and flow cytofluorimetry with fluorescein isothiocyanate-labeled lectins. C. neoformans yeast forms grown in a chemically defined medium contain N-acetylneuraminic acid and its 9-O-acetylated derivative. A density of 3 x 10(6) residues of sialic acid per cell was found in C. neoformans. Sialic acids in cryptococcal cells are glycosidically linked to galactopyranosyl units as inferred from the increased reactivity of neuraminidase-treated yeasts with peanut agglutinin. N-Acetylneuraminic acids are alpha-2,6 and alpha-2,3 linked, as indicated by using virus strains M1/5 and M1/5 HS8, respectively, as agglutination probes. The alpha-2,6 linkage markedly predominated. These findings were essentially confirmed by the interaction of cryptococcal cells with the lectins Sambucus nigra agglutinin and Maackia amurensis agglutinin. We also investigated whether the sialyl residues present in C. neoformans are involved in the fungal interaction with a cationic solid-phase substrate and with mouse resident macrophages. Adhesion of yeast cells to poly-L-lysine was mediated, in part, by sialic acid residues, since the number of adherent cells was markedly reduced after treatment with bacterial neuraminidase. The enzymatic removal of sialic acids also made C. neoformans yeast cells more susceptible to endocytosis by macrophages. The results show that sialic acids are components of the cryptococcal cell surface that contribute to its negative charge and protect yeast forms against phagocytosis.