Hematopoiesis is regulated by two sets of signals, those generated by cytokines and those generated when precursor cells interact with bone marrow (BM) stroma. The intimate contact between precursors and stroma appears to be mediated by multiple, different receptor-ligand binding events. To identify receptor-ligand pairs mediating the adhesion of hematopoietic precursor cells to stroma, an in vitro model of hematopoiesis was used. This involved coculturing the BM-derived, interleukin-3 (IL-3)-dependent, multipotential cells, FCDP-mix A4 (A4) with a stromal equivalent embryonic mesenchymal cell line, Swiss 3T3 (3T3). In coculture, A4 cells survive, proliferate, and differentiate in the absence of exogenous IL-3, providing they are attached to the 3T3 cell surface. By using detergent lysates of surface-biotinylated A4 cells, A4 cell molecules that bind to the stroma could be detected by either fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-streptavidin or FITC-antibody staining and flow cytometry. Using this approach the beta 2 integrin, Mac-1, and CD45, a receptor-type tyrosine phosphatase, were identified as molecules on the A4 cell surface that bind 3T3 cells. Various glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), particularly heparin and heparan sulfate, blocked binding of A4 cell surface molecules to the 3T3 cells. The binding of CD45 and Mac-1 to the 3T3 cells was similarly blocked by these GAGs. Removal of heparin-binding molecules from A4 cell lysates diminished binding to the 3T3 cells and digestion of the 3T3 cell surface with heparinase abolished the binding of CD45 and Mac-1. The data suggest that heparan sulfate on the 3T3 cell surface is a ligand for both CD45 and Mac-1, but the two molecules recognize different heparan sulfate structural motifs.