The Entamoeba histolytica galactose-binding lectin is a surface glycoprotein composed of 170- and 35-kDa subunits. Inhibition of this lectin with galactose or anti-170 kDa subunit polyclonal antibody blocks amebic adherence to target cells and colonic mucin glycoproteins. We describe the properties of 10 mAb with specificity for the 170-kDa subunit. Based on competitive binding studies, six nonoverlapping antigenic determinants on the lectin were identified. The effect of the mAb on adherence of amebic trophozoites to both Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells and human colonic mucins was measured. Antilectin antibodies directed against epitopes 1 and 2 enhanced adherence, with the number of amebae having at least three adherent CHO cells increasing with the addition of epitope 1 mAb from 26 +/- 9 to 88 +/- 2% and the binding of colonic mucins increasing from 34 +/- 1 to 164 +/- 3 pg/10(5) amebae. Antibody-enhanced adherence remained 90 to 100% galactose inhibitable, occurred at 4 degrees C and was not Fc mediated. Univalent Fab fragments of epitope 1 mAb augmented mucin binding by 238% and CHO cell adherence by 338%. The binding of purified lectin to CHO cells was increased from 1.1 +/- 0.1 to 2.4 +/- 0.3 ng/10(3) CHO cells by mAb directed to epitope 1, demonstrating that enhanced adherence was due to direct activation of the lectin. mAb to epitope 3 bound to the lectin only upon its solubilization from the membrane and had no effect on adherence. Adherence to CHO cells and mucins was inhibited from 50 to 75% by mAb to epitopes 4 and 5; epitope 6 mAb inhibited amebic adherence to CHO cells but not mucins. The pooled sera from 10 patients with amebic liver abscess blocked the binding to the 170-kDa subunit of mAb directed to all six epitopes. Striking individual variations in the effects of immune sera on adherence were observed. Although the sera of all 44 South African patients with amebic liver abscess had high titer anti-lectin antibodies, 16 patients' sera significantly (more than 3 SEM) enhanced adherence whereas 25 patients' sera significantly inhibited adherence. Antilectin antibodies exert profound functional effects on the interaction of E. histolytica with target cells and human colonic mucins. Exploration of the clinical consequences of adherence-enhancing and inhibitory antibody responses may give insight into the role of antilectin antibodies in immunity to invasive amebiasis.