Measurement of binding forces intrinsic to adhesion molecules is necessary to assess their contribution to the maintenance of the anatomical integrity of multicellular organisms. Atomic force microscopy was used to measure the binding strength between cell adhesion proteoglycans from a marine sponge. Under physiological conditions, the adhesive force between two cell adhesion molecules was found to be up to 400 piconewtons. Thus a single pair of molecules could hold the weight of 1600 cells. High intermolecular binding forces are likely to form the basis for the integrity of the multicellular sponge organism.