Differentiating B lymphocytes undergo changes in cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesion that control their movement through a series of distinct microenvironments. The integral membrane proteoglycan, syndecan, is a candidate for mediating B lymphocyte-matrix interactions because it is expressed on B lymphocytes only at times when they associate with matrix, and because syndecan is known to behave as a matrix receptor on simple epithelia. However, syndecan from B lymphocytes is significantly smaller in molecular mass than syndecan from simple epithelia (85 vs 160 kDa) suggesting that syndecan may have distinct functions on these two cell types. Our study was undertaken to determine if syndecan mediates adhesion of B lineage cells to extracellular matrix. The murine myeloma cell line MPC-11 was used because syndecan is the only major heparan sulfate proteoglycan detected on these cells and because they express a form of syndecan almost identical to that found on normal B lymphocytes. Cell binding assays demonstrate that syndecan binds MPC-11 cells to type I collagen. Binding is inhibited by heparin, by pretreatment of cells with heparitinase or by growth of cells before the assay in chlorate, an inhibitor of sulfation. Solid phase assays show that syndecan purified from MPC-11 cells binds to type I collagen but not type IV collagen, laminin, or fibronectin. The interaction of MPC-11-derived syndecan with type I collagen is of relatively high affinity (K(d) app = 143 nM) as measured by affinity coelectrophoresis. However, the 160-kDa form of syndecan isolated from epithelial cells has a greater than fourfold higher affinity for type I collagen (K(d) app = 31 nM) than does the MPC-11 syndecan, suggesting that different molecular forms of syndecan have distinct ligand binding properties. These results demonstrate that syndecan can mediate B lymphocyte interactions with matrix and suggest that changes in syndecan expression during B cell differentiation are a mechanism for controlling B cell localization within specific microenvironments.