The proposal that thrombin binds to dermatan sulphate chains of extracellular proteoglycans has been examined directly using the subendothelium of the rabbit aorta. Freshly excised aortas were de-endothelialized by balloon catheterin vitroand then incubated with 125I-thrombin to allow adsorption of 20-30 fmol of thrombin/cm2. Pretreatment of the subendothelium with FPR-thrombin or chondroitinase ABC partially inhibited thrombin binding, each by approximately 40-45%. The addition of dermatan sulphate inhibited, competitively, up to 50% of thrombin from binding to the subendothelium whereas chondroitin-4 or -6 sulphates had little or no effect. By contrast, protamine inhibited 90% of FPR-thrombin binding. Of subendothelium-bound thrombin, chondroitinase ABC released only a small proportion (3-12%) of bound thrombin but up to 44% of bound FPR-thrombin. It is concluded that, when 125I-thrombin is boundin vitroat a concentration of <30 fmol/cm2 of aorta intima-media, approximately 50% of subendothelial 125I-thrombin is bound to dermatan sulphate chains of proteoglycan in the extracellular matrix. The possibility is discussed that dermatan sulphate chains may function as thrombin-binding loci to control or augment thrombin activity in the ECM of the injured vascular wallin vivo.