The extracellular matrix of the hair follicle dermal papilla is rich in glycosaminoglycans, the expression of which varies during the hair growth cycle being maximal in anagen and becoming undetectable as the follicle enters telogen. These observations, together with other experimental and clinical evidence, suggest that glycosaminoglycans may be involved in regulating hair growth. To investigate the metabolism of glycosaminoglycans by the dermal papilla we have measured the incorporation of radiolabelled precursors into glycosaminoglycans released into extracellular matrix and culture medium by cultured human dermal papilla cells. We also studied glycosaminoglycan synthesis by cells cultured from the lower follicular connective tissue sheath and by non-follicular dermal fibroblasts. Compared with dermal fibroblasts, dermal papilla cells showed a three to fourfold higher level of incorporation of 35S-sulphate and 3H-glucosamine into extracellular matrix glycosaminoglycans. Dermal papilla cells also released more 3H-glucosamine-labelled glycosaminoglycan into culture medium than dermal fibroblasts but there was no difference in 35S-sulphate labelling. These findings indicate that dermal papilla cells maintain a high level of glycosaminoglycan synthesis in vitro. Specific enzyme/chemical degradation showed that dermal papilla cells and dermal fibroblasts synthesized the same glycosaminoglycan types. However, the results suggested that dermal papilla glycosaminoglycans are less sulphated than those synthesized by dermal fibroblasts and that a higher proportion of sulphated glycosaminoglycans is retained in an extracellular matrix. The synthesis of glycosaminoglycans by connective tissue sheath cells was similar to that of dermal papilla cells, supporting the view that the dermal papilla and connective tissue sheath share certain properties.