Cell surface heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG) from metastatic mouse melanoma cells initiates cell adhesion to the synthetic peptide FN-C/H II, a heparin-binding peptide from the 33-kD A chain-derived fragment of fibronectin. Mouse melanoma cell adhesion to FN-C/H II was sensitive to soluble heparin and pretreatment of mouse melanoma cells with heparitinase. In contrast, cell adhesion to the fibronectin synthetic peptide CS1 is mediated through an α4β1 integrin and was resistant to heparin or heparitinase treatment. Mouse melanoma cell HSPG was metabolically labeled with [35S]sulfate and extracted with detergent. After HPLC-DEAE purification, 35S-HSPG eluted from a dissociative CL-4B column with a K(av) ~0.45, while 35S-heparan sulfate (HS) chains eluted with a K(av) ~0.62. The HSPG contained a major 63-kD core protein after heparitinase digestion. Polyclonal antibodies generated against HSPG purified from mouse melanoma cells grown in vivo also identified a 63-kD core protein. This HSPG is an integral plasma membrane component by virtue of its binding to Octyl Sepharose affinity columns and that anti-HSPG antibody staining exhibited a cell surface localization. The HSPG is anchored to the cell surface through phosphatidylinositol (PI) linkages, as evidenced in part by the ability of PI-specific phospholipase C to eliminate binding of the detergent-extracted HSPG to Octyl Sepharose. Furthermore, the mouse melanoma HSPG core protein could be metabolically labeled with 3H-ethanolamine. The involvement of mouse melanoma cell surface HSPG in cell adhesion to fibronectin was also demonstrated by the ability of anti-HSPG antibodies and anti-HSPG IgG Fab monomers to inhibit mouse melanoma cell adhesion to FN-C/H II. 35S-HSPG and 35S-HS bind to FN-C/H II affinity columns and require 0.25 M NaCl for elution. However, heparitinase-treated 125I-labeled HSPG failed to bind FN-C/H II, suggesting that HS, and not HSPG core protein, binds FN-C/H II. These data support the hypothesis that a phosphatidylinositol-anchored HSPG on mouse melanoma cells (MPIHP-63) initiates recognition to FN-C/H II, and implicate PI-associated signal transduction pathways in mediating melanoma cell adhesion to this defined ligand.