Because increasing evidence implicates heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) as essential cofactors in receptor-growth factor interactions, in cell-cell recognition systems, and in cell-matrix adhesion processes and yet little is known about their cellular distribution pattern and cellular sources in liver tissue, we used monoclonal antibodies specific for the core proteins of syndecan1, 2, 3, 4, glypican, and perlecan to investigate their immunohistochemical expression in normal adult human liver biopsy specimens. Syndecan1 was expressed in sinusoidal endothelial cells, whereas the endothelium of the portal tract vessels was negative. Hepatocytes showed a membranous staining pattern of the sinusoidal and intercellular domain. Bile duct epithelial cells showed basolateral membrane positivity. Immunoreactivity for syndecan2 was seen in mesenchymal cells, accentuated around bile ducts. Syndecan3 showed intense staining of hepatic arterial and portal venous endothelial cells, of mesenchymal cells, and of Ito cells. Immunohistochemistry for syndecan4 showed a granular staining pattern of hepatocytes at their bile canalicular pole. Glypican showed weak positivity in portal tract mesenchymal cells and clear positivity in nerve bundles. Perlecan was present in Disse's space, in endothelial cells, in basement membranes surrounding bile ducts and vessels, in vessel walls, and in mesenchymal cells. The highly differential expression of these HSPGs in the different cell compartments of the liver, as well as in basement membranes and in Disse's space, suggests that each of these proteoglycans has a specific function in the interplay of cells, matrix molecules, growth factors, and proteinases.