Most clinical isolates of Streptococcus pneumoniae consist of heterogeneous populations of at least two colony phenotypes, opaque and transparent, selected for in the bloodstream and nasopharynx, respectively. Microarray analysis revealed 24 orfs that demonstrated differences in expression greater than twofold between variants of independent strains. Twenty-one of these showed increased expression in the transparent variants, including 11 predicted to be involved in sugar metabolism. A single genomic region contains seven of these loci including the gene that encodes the neuraminidase, NanA. In contrast to previous studies, there was no contribution of NanA to adherence of S. pneumoniae to epithelial cells or colonization in an animal model. However, we observed NanA-dependent desialylation of human airway components that bind to the organism and may mediate bacterial clearance. Targets of desialylation included human lactoferrin, secretory component, and IgA2 that were shown to be present on the surface of the pneumococcus in vivo during pneumococcal pneumonia. The efficiency of desialylation was increased in the transparent variants and enhanced for host proteins binding to the surface of S. pneumoniae. Because deglycosylation affects the function of many host proteins, NanA may contribute to a protease-independent mechanism to modify bound targets and facilitate enhanced survival of the bacterium.