Chondroitin sulfate is known to be present in normal and leukemic myeloid cells; however, its definitive subcellular location and association with other glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) has not been demonstrated. We have studied the type and distribution of GAGs in neutrophil granule subpopulations of normal and leukemic myeloid cells using ultrastructural, cytochemical, immunologic, and biochemical methods. At the ultrastructural level, high-iron diamine- thiocarbohydrazide-silver proteinate (HID-TCH-SP) stained sulfated glycoconjugates selectively in immature primary granules of normal promyelocytes and Auer rods and immature granules of leukemic myeloblasts. Staining was weak or absent in mature primary granules, whereas tertiary granules stained moderately. Primary granule staining with HID-TCH-SP was greatly diminished by prior treatment of the specimens with chondroitinase ABC and/or nitrous acid, indicating the presence of chondroitin sulfate and N-sulfated glycosaminoglycan. Immunostaining of myeloid cells with a rabbit antichondroitin 4-sulfate and ferritin-conjugated goat anti-rabbit IgG sequence resulted in staining of most primary granules. Biochemical analysis of GAGs from leukemic myeloblasts containing primary granules and Auer rods, but lacking secondary and tertiary granules, revealed 8 x 10(-17) mole of uronic acid/cell and electrophoretic and sulfaminohexose analysis showed 60%-70% chondroitin sulfate AC of heterogeneous molecular weight, 20%-30% of a GAG that most closely resembled heparan sulfate, and 10% dermatan sulfate. The lack of significant HID-TCH-SP staining of sulfate iin sites other than Auer rods and primary granules in leukemic myeloblasts indicates that these granules contain the chondroitin, dermatan, and heparan sulfate isolated from the same specimen. Similar GAGs are present in primary granules of normal cells as evidenced by their cytochemical and immunostaining properties. Thus, these studies demonstrate a heterogeneous population of GAGs not previously identified and localize these substances to the primary granule of leukemic and normal cells.