We used an overlay method to study the ability of human salivary glycoproteins to serve as receptors for several strains of streptococci that colonize the oral cavity. Parotid and submandibular-sublingual salivas were collected as ductal secretions, separated by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, and transferred to nitrocellulose membranes. The resulting blots were overlaid with [35S]methionine-labeled bacteria, and salivary components to which the bacteria bound were detected by autoradiography. Potential glycoprotein receptors were identified for 8 of the 16 strains tested. In three cases (Streptococcus sanguis 72-40 and 804 and Streptococcus sobrinus OMZ176), highly specific interactions with a single salivary component were detected. Removal of sialic acid residues from the low-molecular-weight salivary mucin prevented adherence of one of these strains (S. sanguis 72-40), suggesting that this saccharide either mediates binding or is a critical component of the receptor site. In the remaining five strains (Streptococcus gordonii G9B and 10558, S. sanguis 10556, and Streptococcus oralis 10557 and 72-41), interactions with multiple salivary components, including the low-molecular-weight salivary mucin, highly glycosylated proline-rich glycoproteins, and alpha-amylase, were detected. These results suggest that some oral streptococci can bind specifically to certain of the salivary glycoproteins. The interactions identified may play an important role in governing bacterial adherence and clearance within the oral cavity.