It has been known for over a decade that sialidase (neuraminidase) treatment could substantially enhance the capacity of resting B cells to stimulate the proliferation of allogeneic and antigen specific, syngeneic T cells. Thus, cell-surface sialic acid was implicated as a potential modulator of immune cell interaction. However, little progress has been made in either identifying explicit roles for sialic acid in this system or in hypothesizing mechanisms to explain the "neuraminidase effect." Here we show for the first time that cell surface sialic acid on medium incubated B cells blocks access to costimulatory molecules on the B cell surface, and that this is the most likely explanation for the neuraminidase effect. Further, we show that it is likely to be upregulation of ICAM-1 and its subsequent engagement of LFA-1 rather than loss of cell surface sialic acid that in part regulates access to CD86 and other costimulatory molecules. However, we cannot exclude a role for CD86-bound sialic acid on the B cell in modulating binding to T cell CD28, Because sialidase treatment of resting B cells but not resting T cells enables T cell activation, we suggest that sialidase treatment may still be an analogue for an authentic step in B cell activation, and show that for highly activated B cells (activated with polyclonal anti-IgM plus INF-gamma) there is specific loss 2,6-linked sialic acid. Potential roles for sialic acid in modulating B cell/T cell collaboration are discussed.