Syndecan-1 (CD138) is a heparan sulfate-bearing proteoglycan present on the surface of myeloma cells where it mediates myeloma cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix adhesion. In this study, we examined myeloma cell lines for cell membrane localization of syndecan-l. On some cells we note a striking localization of syndecan-1 to a single small membrane protruslon, with the remainder of the cell surface being mostly negative for syndecan-1. Examination of cell morphology reveals that a proportion of cells from myeloma cell lines, as well as primary myeloma cells, are polarized, with a uropod on one end and lamellipodia on the other end. On these polarized cells, syndecan-1 is specifically targeted to the uropod, but in contrast, on nonpolarized cells syndecan-1 is evenly distributed over the entire cell surface. In addition to syndecan-1, several other cell surface molecules localize specifically to the uropod, including CD44 and CD54. Functional assays reveal that myeloma cell lines with a high proportion of polarized cells have a much higher migratory potential than cell lines with few polarized cells. Moreover, the uropod is the cell pole preferentially involved in aggregation of myeloma cells and in adhesion of myeloma cells to osteoblast-like cells. When polarized myeloma cells are incubated with heparin-binding proteins, like hepatocyte growth factor or osteoprotegerin, they concentrate in the uropod. These data indicate that syndecan-1 is targeted to the uropod of polarized myeloma cells and that this targeting plays a role in promoting cell-cell adhesion and may also regulate the biological activity of heparinbinding cytokines. (C) 2000 by The American Society of Hematology.