The hyaluronan receptor belongs to the polymorphic family of CD44 glycoproteins, which have been implicated in a variety of cellular functions including adhesion to hyaluronan and collagen, the binding of lymphocytes to high endothelial cells during extravasation, and conferring metastatic potential to carcinoma cells. Here, we demonstrate that the receptor also participates in the uptake and degradation of hyaluronan by both transformed fibroblasts (SV-3T3 cells) and alveolar macrophages. These cells were incubated with isotopically labeled hyaluronan for various periods of time, and the extent of degradation was determined by either molecular-sieve chromatography or centrifugation through Centricon 30 microconcentrators. The macrophages degraded the hyaluronan at a faster rate than the SV-3T3 cells, which may reflect the fact that they contained a greater number of receptors. More importantly, in both cell types, the degradation of hyaluronan was specifically blocked by antibodies directed against the receptor. However, the receptor by itself did not have the ability to degrade hyaluronan, since preparations of SV-3T3 membranes containing the receptor did not break down hyaluronan. Subsequent experiments revealed that macrophages can internalize fluorescein-tagged hyaluronan, and this process was blocked by antibodies against the receptor. Furthermore, the subsequent degradation of hyaluronan was inhibited by agents that block the acidification of lysosomes (chloroquine and NH4Cl). Thus, the most likely explanation for these results is that the receptor mediates the uptake of hyaluronan into the cell where it can be degraded by acid hydrolases in lysosomes. The ability of cells expressing the receptor to degrade hyaluronan may be important during tissue morphogenesis and cell migration.