Recognition of receptors on sialidase-treated polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) by the Gal/GalNAc lectin associated with the type 2 fimbriae of certain strains of actinomyces results in activation of the PMNs, phagocytosis, and destruction of the bacteria. In the present study, plant lectins were utilized as probes to identify putative PMN receptors for the actinomyces lectin. The Gal-reactive lectin from Ricinus communis (RCAI), the Gal/GalNAc-reactive lectins from R. communis (RCAII) and Bauhinia purpurea (BPA), as well as the Gal beta 1-3GalNAc-specific lectins from Arachis hypogaea (PNA) and Agaricus bisporus (ABA) inhibited killing of Actinomyces naeslundii WVU45 by sialidase-treated PMNs. These five lectins detected a 130-kDa surface-labeled glycoprotein on nitrocellulose transfers of PMN extracts separated by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. This glycoprotein was revealed only after treatment of the transfers with sialidase, a condition analogous to the sialidase dependence of the lectin-mediated biological responses of the PMNs to the actinomyces. The mannose-reactive lectin concanavalin A did not inhibit killing of the actinomyces and failed to detect the 130-kDa glycoprotein but did block PMN-dependent killing of Escherichia coli B, a bacterium that possesses mannose-sensitive fimbriae. Therefore, the PMN glycoprotein receptor for A. naeslundii is clearly distinct from those recognized by E. coli. Two major putative glycolipid receptors were also identified by actinomyces and RCAI overlays on sialidase-treated thin-layer chromatograms of PMN gangliosides. Thus, both a 130-kDa glycoprotein and certain gangliosides are implicated in the attachment of the actinomyces to PMNs.