The glomerular epithelial polyanion is a specialized cell surface component found on renal glomerular epithelial cells (podocytes) that is rich in sialoprotein(s), as detected by staining with cationic dyes (colloidal iron, alcian blue) and wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). We have isolated rat glomeruli and analyzed their protein composition by SDS PAGE in 5-10% gradient gels. When the gels were stained with alcian blue or "Stains All," a single band with an apparent Mr of 140,000 was detected that also stained very prominently with silver, but not with Coomassie Blue. This band predominated in fluorograms of gels of isolated glomeruli that had been labeled in their sialic acid residues by periodate-[3H]borohydride. In lectin overlays, the 140-kilodalton (kd) band was virtually the only one that bound [125I]wheat germ agglutinin, and this binding could be prevented by predigestion with neuraminidase. [125I]Peanut lectin bound exclusively to the 140-kd band after neuraminidase treatment. An antibody was prepared that specifically recognizes only the 140-kd band by immunoprecipitation and immuneoverlay. By immunoperoxidase and immunogold techniques, it was localized to the surface coat of the glomerular epithelium and, less extensively, to that of endothelial cells. When analyzed (after electroelution from preparative SDS gels), the 140-kd band was found to contain approximately 20% hexose and approximately 4.5% sialic acid. These findings indicate that the 140-kd protein is the major sialoprotein of the glomerulus, and it is the only component of glomerular lysates with an affinity for cationic dyes and lectins identical to that defined histochemically for the epithelial polyanion in situ. Since this molecule is a major component of the cell coat or glycocalyx of the podocytes, we have called it "podocalyxin."