Interactions between the IGF-binding proteins (IGFBPs) and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) such as heparin may be involved in the regulatory control of IGF exerted by the IGFBPs at the level of the extracellular matrix and capillary endothelium, although the precise mechanisms of this remain uncertain. We have searched primary sequences of human, rat and bovine IGFBPs-1 to -6 for putative GAG-binding consensus sequences (XBBXBX and XBBBXXBX, where B represents any basic amino acid and X is undefined). At least one such sequence was identified in each IGFBP examined except human and rat IGFBP-4 and rat IGFBP-6, with IGFBP-5 containing three GAG-binding consensus sequences. Additionally, the bovine IGF type II receptor was found to contain two such sequences in the intracellular region. Affinity of the IGFBP preparations for heparin was examined experimentally by affinity chromatography using pooled fractions of fetal and adult ovine plasma obtained by size exclusion chromatography. Pooled fractions of 150 kDa (containing IGFBP-3 alone by IGF ligand blot analysis) and 40–50 kDa (containing IGFBPs-3 and -2, together with proteins of 29, 24 and 25–28 kDa which may include IGFBP-4 and IGFBPs-1, -5 and -6) were found to bind strongly to the matrix necessitating high salt concentrations for their elution; however, in contrast, a >200 kDa fraction containing the soluble form of the type II receptor failed to bind. Recombinant human non-glycosylated IGFBP-3 also bound strongly to the affinity adsorbent. No evidence of dissociation of bound IGF from binding protein complexes by association with the matrix was obtained from this experiment. This study provides a molecular basis for the interaction of IGFBPs with matrix GAGs, although precise mechanisms by which this may influence IGF bioactivity at the cellular level remain to be established.