Heparan sulphate and dermatan sulphate have both antithrombotic and anticoagulant properties. These are, however, significantly weaker than those of a comparable amount of standard pig mucosal heparin. Antithrombotic and anticoagulant effects of glycosaminoglycans depend on their ability to catalyse the inhibition of thrombin and/or to inhibit the activation of prothrombin. Since heparan sulphate and dermatan sulphate are less sulphated than unfractionated heparin, we investigated whether the decreased sulphation contributes to the lower antithrombotic and anticoagulant activities compared with standard heparin. To do this, we compared the anticoagulant activities of heparan sulphate and dermatan sulphate with those of their derivatives resulphated in vitro. The ratio of sulphate to carboxylate in these resulphated heparan sulphate and dermatan sulphate derivatives was approximately twice that of the parent compounds and similar to that of standard heparin. Anticoagulant effects were assessed by determining (a) the catalytic effects of each glycosaminoglycan on the inhibition of thrombin added to plasma, and (b) the ability of each glycosaminoglycan to inhibit the activation of 125I-prothrombin in plasma. The least sulphated glycosaminoglycans were least able to catalyse the inhibition of thrombin added to plasma and to inhibit the activation of prothrombin. Furthermore, increasing the degree of sulphation improved the catalytic effects of glycosaminoglycans on the inhibition of thrombin by heparin cofactor II in plasma. The degree of sulphation therefore appears to be an important functional property that contributes significantly to the anticoagulant effects of the two glycosaminoglycans.