The macrophage-specific cell surface receptor sialoadhesin, which is a member of the newly recognized family of sialic acid binding lectins called siglecs, binds glycoprotein and glycolipid ligands containing a2-3-linked sialic acid on the surface of several leukocyte subsets. Recently, the sialic acid binding activity of the siglec CD22 has been demonstrated to be regulated by sialylation of the CD22 receptor molecule. In the present work, we show that desialylation of in vivo macrophage sialylconjugates enhances sialoadhesin-mediated lectin activity. Herein, we show that receptor sialylation of soluble sialoadhesin inhibits its binding to Jurkat cell ligands, and that charge-dependent repulsion alone cannot explain this inhibition. Furthermore, we show that the inhibitory effect of sialic acid is partially dependent on the presence of an intact exocyclic side chain. These results, in conjunction with previous findings, suggest that sialylation of siglecs by specific glycosyltransferases may be a common mechanism by which siglec-mediated adhesion is regulated.