Initial attachment of leukocytes to the vessel wall at sites of inflammation is supported by a family of carbohydrate-binding adhesion molecules called the selectins. Selectin ligands include sialyl-Lewis x (sLex, Neu5Ac alpha 2–3Gal beta 1–4[Fuc alpha 1–3]GlcNAc--) and related structures. We report here that defined heparin oligosaccharides interact with the selectins. Heparin chains containing four or more monosaccharide residues inhibited the function of L- and P-selectin, but not E-selectin, in vitro. In a competition enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay measuring inhibition of solution-phase selectin-Ig fusion proteins (selectin-Ig) binding to immobilized bovine serum albumin-sLex neoglycoprotein, a heparin-derived tetrasaccharide mixture inhibited 50% of L- and P-selectin-Ig binding (IC50) at 200 +/- 40 mumol/L and 850 +/- 110 mumol/L, respectively. A single hexasulfated tetrasaccharide (delta UA2S alpha 1–4GlcNS6S alpha 1–4IdoA2S alpha 1- 4GlcNS6S) was particularly active against L- and P-selectin-Ig (IC50 = 46 +/- 5 mumol/L and 341 +/- 24 mumol/L). By comparison, the tetrasaccharide sLex was not inhibitory at concentrations up to 1 mmol/L. In cell adhesion assays, heparin tetrasaccharides reduced binding of neutrophils to COS cells expressing P-selectin but not to COS cells expressing E-selectin. They also blocked colon cancer cell adhesion to L- and P-selectin but not E-selectin. In a model of acute inflammation, intravenously administered heparin tetrasaccharides diminished influx of neutrophils into the peritoneal cavities of thioglycollate-treated mice. We conclude that heparin oligosaccharides, including non-anticoagulant tetrasaccharides, are effective L- and P- selectin inhibitors in vitro and have anti-inflammatory activity in vivo.