Heparan sulphate proteoglycans (HSPGs) present on the surface of bone marrow stromal cells and in the extracellular matrix (ECM) have important roles in the control of adhesion and growth of haemopoietic stem and progenitor cells. The two main groups of proteoglycans which contain heparan sulphate chains are members of the syndecan and glypican families. In this study we have identified the main surface membrane and matrix-associated HSPGs present in normal human bone marrow stroma formed in long-term culture. Proteoglycans were extracted from the adherent stromal layers and treated with heparitinase and chondroitinase ABC. The core proteins were detected by Western blotting using antibodies directed against syndecans-1-4, glypican-1 and the ECM HSPG, perlecan. Stromal cell expression at the RNA level was detected by Northern blotting and by reverse transcription PCR. Glypican-1, syndecan-3 and syndecan-4 were the major cell-membrane HSPG species and perlecan was the major ECM proteoglycan. There was no evidence for expression of syndecan-1 protein. Syndecan-3 was expressed mainly as a variant or processed 50-55 kDa core protein and in lower amounts as the characteristic 125 kDa core protein. These results suggest that syndecan-3, syndecan-4 and glypican-1 present on the surface of marrow stromal cells, together with perlecan in the ECM, may be responsible for creating the correct stromal 'niche' for the maintenance and development of haemopoietic stem and progenitor cells. The detection of a variant form of syndecan-3 as a major stromal HSPG suggests a specific role for this syndecan in haemopoiesis.