Tumor-associated alterations of cell surface glycosylation play a crucial role in the adhesion and metastasis of carcinoma cells. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of alpha 2,6-sialylation on the adhesion properties of breast carcinoma cells. To this end mammary carcinoma cells, MDA-MB-435, were sense-transfected with sialyltransferase ST6Gal-I cDNA or antisense-transfected with a part of the ST6Gal-I sequence. Sense transfectants showed an enhanced ST6Gal-I mRNA expression and enzyme activity and an increased binding of the lectin Sambucus nigra agglutinin (SNA), specific for alpha 2,6-linked sialic acid. Transfection with ST6Gal-I in the antisense direction resulted in less enzyme activity and SNA reactivity. A sense-transfected clone carrying increased amounts of alpha 2,6-linked sialic acid adhered preferentially to collagen IV and showed reduced cell-cell adhesion and enhanced invasion capacity. In contrast, antisense transfection led to less collagen IV adhesion but enhanced homotypic cell-cell adhesion. In another approach, inhibition of ST6Gal-I enzyme activity by application of soluble antisense-oligodeoxynucleotides was studied. Antisense treatment resulted in reduced ST6 mRNA expression and cell surface 2,6-sialylation and significantly decreased collagen IV adhesion. Our results suggest that cell surface alpha 2,6-sialylation contributes to cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix adhesion of tumor cells. Inhibition of sialytransferase ST6Gal-I by antisense-oligodeoxynucleotides might be a way to reduce the metastatic capacity of carcinoma cells.