[en] Thrombospondin is an adhesive glycoprotein that promotes breast cancer cell adhesion to human vascular endothelial cells (Incardona et al., 1995). In this study, we have identified the molecular domains of thrombospondin that mediate its binding to specific receptors on the human breast adenocarcinoma cell line, MDA-MB-231. Two recombinant fragments from the amino-terminus (TSPN18 and TSPN28), and the fusion proteins of the type 1 and type 2 repeats of human thrombospondin, inhibited binding of radiolabeled thrombospondin to MDA-MB-231 cells in suspension by 40-60% at 50 micrograms/ml whereas the type 3 repeat, carboxy-terminus and unfused glutathione-S-transferase as well as the synthetic peptide Gly-Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser (500 micrograms/ml) had little or no effect. Heparin and various glycosaminoglycans as heparan sulfate, chondroitin sulfates A, B or C, and fucoidan inhibited thrombospondin binding to MDA-MB-231 cells by more than 60% whereas dextran sulfate had only little effect. Treatment of cells with heparitinase, chondroitinase ABC, and hyaluronidase, but not with neuraminidase, induced 30-50% inhibition of thrombospondin binding suggesting the participation of both heparan sulfate and chondroitin sulfate cell surface-associated molecules. Inhibition of proteoglycan sulfation by chlorate or inhibition of glycosaminoglycan chain formation by two beta-D-xylosides also led to a substantial inhibition of thrombospondin binding. Our results indicate that several domains within the thrombospondin molecule, namely the amino-terminus, type 1 and type 2 repeats, participate in its binding to specific receptors bearing sulfated glycosaminoglycans on MDA-MB-231 cells. Biological assays have indicated that, in addition to these domains, the peptide Gly-Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser inhibited MDA-MB-231 cell attachment to thrombospondin suggesting that the last type 3 repeat of the molecule may also contribute to its cell adhesive activity.