Glycoprotein C (gC) from herpes simplex virus (HSV) facilitates virus entry by attaching the virion to host cell-surface heparan sulfate (HS). Although gC from HSV-1 (gC1) and from HSV-2 (gC2) bind to heparin, gC2 is believed to play a less significant role than gC1 in attachment of virus to cells. This attachment step is followed by the binding of gD to one of several cellular receptors. gC also plays an important role in immune evasion by binding to the C3b fragment of the third component of the host complement system. Yet, although both gC1 and gC2 protect HSV against complement-mediated neutralization, only gC on HSV-1-infected cells acts as a receptor for C3b. We used optical biosensor technology to quantitate the affinities (K(D)) and the stabilities (k(off)) between both serotypes of gC with heparin, HS, and C3b to address three questions concerning gC interactions. First, can differences in affinity or stability account for differences between the contributions of HSV-1 and HSV-2 gC in attachment? Our data show that the gC2-HS complex is highly unstable (k(off) = 0.2 s(-1)) compared to the gC1-HS complex (k(off) = 0.003 s(-1)), suggesting why gC2 may not play an important role in attachment of virus to cells as does gC1. Second, does gC2 have a lower affinity for C3b than does gC1, thereby explaining the lack of C3b-receptor activity on HSV-2 infected cells? Surprisingly, gC2 had a 10-fold higher affinity for C3b compared to gC1, so this functional difference in serotypes cannot be accounted for by affinity. Third, do differences in gC-HS and gD-receptor affinities support a model of HSV entry in which the gC-HS interaction is of lower affinity than the gD-receptor interaction? Our biosensor results indicate that gC has a higher affinity for HS than gD does for cellular receptors HveA (HVEM) and HveC (nectin-1).