Adhesion of myeloid leukemia cells to the bone marrow (BM) microenvironment is mediated in part by Beta 1 and Beta 2 integrins. Cells of the erythroleukemia line K562, derived from a patient with chronic myeloid leukemia, bind to BM fibroblasts (BMFs) but the adhesion cannot be accounted for by integrins or other known adhesion proteins including CD44 or members of the Ig or selectin families. Membrane fragments from K562 cells were radioiodinated and allowed to adhere to BMF monolayers. Adherent proteins were solubilized together with the fibroblasts, analyzed by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, and visualized by autoradiography. Four adherent proteins were consistently observed. Two of these, with reduced molecular weights of 52 kD and 35 to 37 kD, were prominent. Addition of soluble thrombospondin and heparin but not fibronectin inhibited binding of K562 membrane proteins to adherent BMFs and immobilized thrombospondin- and heparin-bound K562 proteins. The 52-kD protein has a multimeric structure nonreduced and has characteristics of a glycoprotein. Its adhesion to fibroblasts is divalent cation and temperature sensitive. The 35- to 37-kD protein, whose function is divalent cation but not temperature sensitive, is phosphoinositol- linked and has characteristics identical to an adherent 35- to 37-kD protein identified on murine progenitor cells. Membrane preparations from two cases of acute myeloid leukemia showed an adherent 35- to 37- kD protein and in one case an adherent 52-kD protein without other adherent bands. A K562 subclone with reduced adherence to BMFs showed reduced amounts of adherent 52-kD and 35- to 37-kD proteins. These proteins may be responsible for the adhesion of malignant and normal hematopoietic progenitor cells to the BM microenvironment.