The syndecans comprise a family of integral membrane proteoglycans that regulate cell behaviors by binding to extracellular matrix and binding growth factors. In mouse blood cells, syndecan expression is restricted to cells of the B-cell lineage where it is expressed by pre-B cells and plasma cells, but is absent from circulating B cells. In the present study, we examined the expression, structure, and function of syndecan on human myeloma cell lines and myeloma patient bone marrow cells. On myeloma cells, syndecan is a small (modal relative molecular mass [M(r)] = 120 Kd) heparan sulfate proteoglycan localized at the cell surface. Syndecan was detected by immunodot blotting on 7 of 10 human myeloma cell lines and by reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction on 10 of 14 patient samples. Cell binding assays show that myeloma cells expressing syndecan bind to type I collagen via heparan sulfate chains, while those cell lines not expressing syndecan do not bind to collagen. Furthermore, the cell lines expressing syndecan were negative for CD19 and CD45 staining, indicating that syndecan expression is restricted to tumors having a well-differentiated phenotype. We conclude that syndecan acts as a matrix receptor on human myeloma cells but is not expressed by all tumors, suggesting that syndecan may participate in regulating myeloma cell adhesion to the bone marrow stromal matrix.