The establishment of sister chromatid cohesion during S phase and its dissolution at the metaphase-anaphase transition are essential for the faithful segregation of chromosomes in mitosis [1-4]. Recent studies in yeast genetics and Xenopus biochemistry have identified a large protein complex, cohesin, that plays a key role in sister chromatid cohesion [5-10]. The cohesin complex consists of a heterodimeric pair of SMC (structural maintenance of chromosomes) subunits and at least two non-SMC subunits. This structural organization is reminiscent of that of condensin, another major SMC protein complex that drives chromosome condensation in eukaryotic cells . Condensin has been shown to reconfigure and compact DNA in vitro by utilizing the energy of ATP hydrolysis . Very little is known, however, about how cohesin works at a mechanistic level. Here we report the first set of biochemical activities associated with an intact cohesin complex purified from HeLa cell extracts. The cohesin complex binds directly to double-stranded DNA and induces the formation of large protein-DNA aggregates. In the presence of topoisomerase II, cohesin stimulates intermolecular catenation of circular DNA molecules. This activity is in striking contrast to intramolecular knotting directed by condensin . Cohesin also increases the probability of intermolecular ligation of linear DNA molecules in the presence of DNA ligase. Our results are consistent with a model in which cohesin functions as an intermolecular DNA crosslinker and is part of the molecular "glue" that holds sister chromatids together .