Chemokines direct immune cells toward sites of infection by establishing a gradient across the extracellular matrix of the tissue. This gradient is thought to be stabilized by ligation of chemokines to sulfated polysaccharides known as glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) that are found on the surface of endothelial and other cells as well as in the tissue matrix. GAGs interact with chemokines and in some cases cause them to aggregate. The interaction between cell surface GAGs and chemokines has also been postulated to play a role in the anti-HIV activity of some chemokines, including MIP-1beta. Since many proteins interact with GAGs by utilizing basic residues, we mutated R18, K45, R46, and K48 in MIP-1beta to investigate the role of these residues in GAG binding and CCR5 function. We find that no single amino acid substitution alone has a dramatic effect on heparin binding, although change at R46 has a moderate effect. However, binding to heparin is completely abrogated in a mutant (K45A/R46A/K48A) in which the entire "40's loop" has been neutralized. A functional study of these mutants reveals that the charged residues in this 40's loop, particularly K48 and R46, are critical mediators of MIP-1beta binding to its receptor CCR5. However, despite the partially overlapping function of the residues in the 40's loop in binding to both CCR5 and heparin, the presence of cell surface sugars does not appear to be necessary for the ability of MIP-1beta to function on its receptor CCR5, as enzymatic removal of GAGs from cells results in little effect on MIP-1beta activity. Because the means by which the chemokine gradient transmits information to the recruited cells is not well defined, we also mutated the basic residues in MIP(9), a truncated form of MIP-1beta that is impaired in its ability to dimerize, to probe whether the quaternary structure of this chemokine influences its ability to bind heparin. None of the truncated variants bound as well as the full-length proteins containing the same mutation, suggesting that the MIP-1beta dimer participates in heparin binding.