There is evidence indicating that stromal proteoglycans are an important functional component of the hematopoietic microenvironment. Proteoglycan synthesis was therefore investigated in the MS3–2A and D2XRII hematopoietic stromal cell lines. These lines differ in their capacity to support hematopoiesis in vitro, D2XRII supporting in vitro hematopoiesis, whereas MS3–2A does not. Cells were labeled with 35S- sulfate as precursor, and 4 mol/L guanidine HCl extracts of cells and media were analyzed by ion-exchange chromatography, cesium chloride density gradient centrifugation, and molecular sieve chromatography. Proteoglycans were further examined by enzymatic and chemical digestions. MS3–2A cells produced at least three proteoglycan species. Two chondroitin/dermatan sulfate (CS/DS) proteoglycans, Kav = 0.40 and Kav = 0.68 on Sepharose CL-2B, were present primarily in the medium. The respective glycosaminoglycan molecular weight (mol wt) values were 38 kd and 40 kd. A heparan sulfate (HS) proteoglycan of Kav = 0.58 and glycosaminoglycan mol wt 36 kd was present primarily in the cell layer extract. D2XRII cells synthesized two HS proteoglycans. The larger (Kav = 0.45; glycosaminoglycan mol wt, 30 kd) was of low density on gradient centrifugation and more prominent in the cell layer extracts, whereas the smaller (Kav = 0.68; glycosaminoglycan mol wt, 38 kd) was dense and present mainly in the culture medium. A single CS/DS proteoglycan species of Kav 0.78 and average glycosaminoglycan of mol wt 18 kd was present in roughly equal amounts in the medium and in the cell layer. MS3–2A and D2XRII thus appear phenotypically distinct with respect to proteoglycan synthesis. These differences are discussed in relation to the microenvironmental function of bone marrow stromal elements.