Using a biochemical and cell biological approach, we have identified a cell interaction site at the carboxyl terminus of tropoelastin. Cell interactions with the COOH-terminal sequence are not through the elastin-binding protein (EBP67) because neither VGVAPG-like peptides nor galactoside sugars altered adhesion. Our results also show that cell adhesion to tropoelastin is not promoted by integrins. Through the use of mutant Chinese hamster ovary cell lines defective in glycosaminoglycan biosynthesis, as well as competition studies and enzymatic removal of specific cell-surface glycosaminoglycans, the tropoelastin-binding moieties on the cell surface were identified as heparan and chondroitin sulfate-containing glycosaminoglycans, with heparan sulfate being greatly preferred. Heparin affinity chromatography combined with cell adhesion assays identified the last 17 amino acids as the sequence element at the carboxyl terminus of tropoelastin responsible for the adhesive activity.