To compare features of the receptor-binding sites (RBSs) of different influenza virus hemagglutinins (HA), binding of a number of synthetic sialic acid (SA) analogs and natural sialosides by a panel of about 30 human influenza A and B virus strains was studied in a competitive ligand binding assay. For all the viruses tested, the N-acetyl group of Neu5Ac, as well as the natural orientation of the carboxylic group at C2 and the hydroxylic group at C4, was essential for binding. Significant type- and subtype-specific differences were observed in virus recognition of asialic parts of sialosides. H1 strains, unlike H3 and type B viruses, were found to bind alpha 2-6-sialyl-N-acetyllactosamine with about an order of magnitude higher affinity than alpha 2-6-sialyllactose (6'SL). The H1 viruses and the H3 strains with Gln in position 226 of HA, but not the H3 strains with Leu-226, bound 6'SL with a lower affinity than alpha 2-3-sialyllactose; this effect correlated clearly with the preferential binding by the former viruses of unsubstituted alpha Neu5Ac compared to methyl alpha-glycoside of Neu5Ac. Thus, differentiation between the types of the SA-Gal linkage by the A viruses appeared to depend, at least partially, upon the recognition by the HA of the first hydrocarbon group of the aglycon. Type B virus strains were distinct in having a lower affinity for the Neu5Ac moiety and in providing a higher contribution of the asialic portions of sialosides to the HA-ligand interactions. The last effects are presumably due to the amino acid insertions in the type B HA surrounding the RBS, which makes the receptor-binding pocket deeper. The results obtained in the present investigation indicate that while the functional groups of Neu5Ac studied are recognized by the RBSs of all influenza viruses, the magnitude of their contribution to the binding energy, as well as the contribution of the asialic portion of the receptor, may vary in dependence upon the virus type, subtype, and strain.