Extracellular adhesives from the diatoms Achnanthes longipes, Amphora coffeaeformis, Cymbella cistula, and Cymbella mexicana were characterized by monosaccharide and methylation analysis, lectin-fluorescein isothiocyanate localization, and cytochemical staining. Polysaccharide was the major component of adhesives formed during cell motility, synthesis of a basal pad, and/or production of a highly organized shaft. Hot water-insoluble/hot 0.5 M NaHCO3-soluble anionic polysaccharides from A. longipes and A. coffeaeformis adhesives were primarily composed of galactosyl (64-70%) and fucosyl (32-42%) residues. In A. longipes polymers, 2,3-, t-, 3-, and 4-linked/substituted galactosyl, t-, 3-, 4-, and 2-linked fucosyl, and t- and 2-linked glucuronic acid residues predominated. Adhesive polysaccharides from C. cistula were EDTA-soluble, sulfated, consisted of 83% galactosyl (4-, 4,6-, and 3,4-linked/substituted) and 13% xylosyl (t-, 4f/5p-, and 3p-linked/substituted) residues, and contained no uronosyl residues. Ulex europaeus agglutinin uniformly localized [alpha](1,2)-L-fucose units in C. cistula and Achnanthes adhesives formed during motility and in the pads of A. longipes. D-Galactose residues were localized throughout the shafts of C. cistula and capsules of A. coffeaeformis. D-Mannose and/or D-glucose, D-galactose, and [alpha](t)-L-fucose residues were uniformly localized in the outer layers of A. longipes shafts by Cancavalia ensiformis, Abrus precatorius, and Lotus tetragonolobus agglutinin, respectively. A model for diatom cell adhesive structure was developed from chemical characterization, localization, and microscopic observation of extracellular adhesive components formed during the diatom cell-attachment process.