Sialoadhesin is a macrophage-restricted adhesion molecule of 185 kDa that mediates sialic acid-dependent binding to cells. It is expressed strongly by macrophages in lymphoid and haemopoietic tissues where it is likely to mediate cell-cell interactions. Here we report the molecular cloning of murine sialoadhesin and show that it is a new member of the immunoglobulin (Ig) superfamily with 17 Ig-like domains. COS cells transfected with a cDNA encoding full-length sialoadhesin bound mouse bone marrow cells in a sialic acid-dependent manner. Alternatively spliced cDNAs, predicting soluble forms of sialoadhesin containing the first three or 16 Ig-like domains of sialoadhesin, were expressed in COS cells and the respective proteins purified. When immobilized on plastic, the 16-domain form bound cells in a sialic acid-dependent manner, suggesting that sialoadhesin can function in both secreted and membrane-bound forms. The most similar proteins in the database were CD22, myelin-associated glycoprotein, Schwann cell myelin protein and CD33. Like sialoadhesin, CD22 mediates sialic acid-dependent cell adhesion. The sequence similarity of sialoadhesin to CD22 and related members of the Ig superfamily indicates the existence of a novel family of sialic acid binding proteins involved in cell-cell interactions.