Six of ten anionic polysaccharides studied were found to significantly reduce the adhesion of growth-phase Dictyostelium discoideum cells. However, only hyaluronic acid, chondroitin-4-sulfate and chondroitin-6-sulfate interfered with the adhesion of aggregation-competent cells. Neither EDTA-stable nor EDTA-sensitive adhesion of postaggregation cells were affected by the polyanions. The two chondroitin sulfates influenced the aggregation of cells in submerged cultures, long and broad aggregation streams being formed and the broad sheets of cells eventually building multilayered aggregates. Radioiodination of cell surface proteins followed by cellulose fiber affinity chromatography identified the same nine proteins bound by hyaluronic acid and the chondroitin sulfates, six of which were regulated during development. Protease-resistant anionic material isolated from cells bound the same surface proteins as the three glycosaminoglycans. Discoidin I bound to the uncoupled cellulose fibers, suggesting a structural role for the lectin in the extracellular slime sheath. Anionic polysaccharides and cell surface lectins that bind them may be involved in the cell recognition, cell aggregation, and the cell sorting that occurs during pattern formation.