This study investigated the effects of two highly sulfated polysaccharides, calcium pentosan polysulfate and heparin, on the loss of newly synthesized proteoglycans from the matrix of explant cultures of bovine tendon. The tensional region of deep flexor tendon was incubated with [35S]sulfate for 6 h and then placed in culture for up to 15 days. The amount of radiolabel associated with proteoglycans lost to the medium and retained in the matrix was determined for each day in culture. It was shown that both sulfated polysaccharides at concentrations of 1000 microg x mL(-1) inhibited the loss of 35S-labeled large and small proteoglycans from the matrix and concomitant with this was a retention of chemical levels of proteoglycans in the explant cultures. In other explant cultures that were maintained in culture in the presence of both agents for more than 5 days after incubation with [35S]sulfate, inhibition of the intracellular catabolic pathway was evident, indicating that these highly sulfated polysaccharides also interfered with the intracellular uptake of small proteoglycans by tendon cells.