Saccharomyces cerevisiae a and alpha cells express the complementary cell surface glycoproteins a-agglutinin and alpha-agglutinin, respectively, which interact with one another to promote cellular aggregation during mating. Treatment of S. cerevisiae a cells with reducing agents releases the binding subunit of a-agglutinin, which has been purified and characterized; little biochemical information on the overall structure of a-agglutinin is available. To characterise a-agglutinin structure and function, we have used a genetic approach to clone an a-agglutinin structural gene (AGAI). Mutants with a-specific agglutination defects were isolated, the majority of which fell into a single complementation group, called aga1. The aga1 mutants showed wild-type pheromone production and response, efficient mating on solid medium, and a mating defect in liquid medium; these phenotypes are characteristic of agglutinin mutants. The AGA1 gene was cloned by complementation; the gene sequence indicated that it could encode a protein of 725 amino acids with high serine and threonine content, a putative N-terminal signal sequence, and a C-terminal hydrophobic sequence similar to signals for the attachment to glycosyl phosphatidylinositol anchors. Active a-agglutinin binding subunit is secreted by aga1 mutants, indicating that AGA1 is involved in cells surface attachment of a-agglutinin. This result suggests that AGA1 encodes a protein with functional similarity to the core subunits of a-agglutinin analogs from other budding yeasts. Unexpectedly, the AGA1 transcript was expressed and induced by pheromone in both a and alpha cells, suggesting that the a-specific expression of active a-agglutinin results only from a-specific regulation of the a-agglutinin binding subunit.