Trans-sialidase and neuraminidase activities have been detected on the surface membrane of trypomastigotes of Trypanosoma cruzi, and both have been implicated in the parasite's invasion of host cells. We show here that these enzymes are structurally related. They are recognized by two independently derived monoclonal antibodies, are anchored to the membrane by glycosylphosphatidylinositol, copurify by ion exchange, molecular sieving, and hydrophobic chromatography, have maximal activities between pH 6.5 and 7.5, and are inactivated by heating at 56 degrees C. Furthermore, the neuraminidase and trans-sialidase reactions are coupled. An increase of the concentration of acceptors of the transfer reaction decreases the amount of free sialic acid released through the neuraminidase reaction. We conclude that a single enzyme can catalyze the transfer or the hydrolysis of macromolecular-bound sialic acid. The predominant direction of the reaction will depend on the availability of appropriate oligosaccharide acceptors of sialic acid.