The influence of lectins on Cryptosporidium parvum oocyst agglutination and on attachment to both fixed Madin Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cells and fixed HCT-8 (human colorectal epithelial) cells was examined. Oocyst cell wall characteristics were examined by transmission electron microscopy. Lectin-free oocysts were shown to adhere equally to both MDCK cells and HCT-8 cells. In MDCK cells, the addition of 1-25 microg/ml Codium fragile lectin, 10 microg/ml Maclura pomifera lectin, 10 microg/ml Helix pomatia lectin, and 10-200 microg/ml Artocarpus integrifolia lectin significantly increased attachment to at least 1 of the cell cultures as compared to oocysts incubated without any lectin. The lectin-enhanced attachment was reversed by co-incubation of lectin treated-oocysts with 250 mM of each specific sugar (for a given lectin). In agglutination assays, concentrations as low as 0.5 microg/ml of C. fragile, M. pomifera, and A. integrifolia lectin agglutinated oocysts within 60 min. Finally, in TEM samples, colloidal gold conjugated-lectins from A. integrifolia, C. fragile, H. pomatia, and M. pomifera attached to oocysts, and this could be competitively inhibited by a lectin-specific sugar. This suggests that C. parvum oocysts are highly reactive to N-acetyl galactosamine-binding lectins and that the presence of N-acetyl-galactosamine containing molecules on oocysts can potentially help in oocyst attachment to host cells.