Aggregation of suspended HeLa cells is increased on removal of cell surface sialic acid. Calcium ions promote aggregation whereas magnesium ions have no effect. The calcium effect is abolished by previous treatment of the cells with neuraminidase.
Trypsinization of the HeLa cells followed by thorough washing diminishes the rate of mutual cell aggregation. Subsequent incubation with neuraminidase restores the aggregation rate to the original value before trypsin treatment. Cells which had acquired a greater tendency for aggregation after removal of peripheral sialic acid lose this property when subsequently treated with trypsin. Calcium ions have no aggregative effect on trypsinized cells.
In contrast to HeLa cells, aggregation of human erythrocytes was not increased after treatment with neuraminidase or on addition of calcium.
The results with HeLa cells are interpreted as follows: (a) Trypsin-releasable material confers adhesiveness upon the cells. (b) The adhesive property of this material is counteracted by the presence of cell surface sialic acids. (c) Calcium ions exert their effect by attenuating the adverse effect of sialic acid.