Parkinson's disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease and results from loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. The aggregation and fibrillation of alpha-synuclein have been implicated as a causative factor in the disease. Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are routinely found associated with amyloid deposits in most amyloidosis diseases, and there is evidence to support an active role of GAGs in amyloid fibril formation in some cases. In contrast to the extracellular amyloid deposits, the alpha-synuclein deposits in Lewy body diseases are intracellular, and thus it is less clear whether GAGs may be involved. To determine whether the presence of GAGs does affect the fibrillation of alpha-synuclein, the kinetics of fibril formation were investigated in the presence of a number of GAGs and other charged polymers. Certain GAGs (heparin, heparan sulfate) and other highly sulfated polymers (dextran sulfate) were found to significantly stimulate the formation of alpha-synuclein fibrils. Interestingly, the interaction of GAGs with alpha-synuclein is quite specific, since some GAGs, e.g., keratan sulfate, had negligible effect. Heparin not only increased the rate of fibrillation but also apparently increased the yield of fibrils. The molar ratio of heparin to alpha-synuclein and the incorporation of fluorescein-labeled heparin into the fibrils demonstrate that the heparin is integrated into the fibrils and is not just a catalyst for fibrillation. The apparent dissociation constant for heparin in stimulating alpha-synuclein fibrillation was 0.19 microM, indicating a strong affinity. Similar effects of heparin were observed with the A53T and A30P mutants of alpha-synuclein. Since there is some evidence that Lewy bodies may contain GAGs, these observations may be very relevant in the context of the etiology of Parkinson's disease.