Many microbial pathogens subvert proteoglycans for their adhesion to host tissues, invasion of host cells, infection of neighbouring cells, dissemination into the systemic circulation, and evasion of host defence mechanisms. Where studied, specific virulence factors mediate these proteoglycan-pathogen interactions, which are thus thought to affect the onset, progression and outcome of infection. Proteoglycans are composites of glycosaminoglycan (GAG) chains attached covalently to specific core proteins. Proteoglycans are expressed ubiquitously on the cell surface, in intracellular compartments, and in the extracellular matrix. GAGs mediate the majority of ligand-binding activities of proteoglycans, and many microbial pathogens elaborate cell-surface and secreted factors that interact with GAGs. Some pathogens also modulate the expression and function of proteoglycans through known virulence factors. Several GAG-binding pathogens can no longer attach to and invade host cells whose GAG expression has been reduced by mutagenesis or enzymatic treatment. Furthermore, GAG antagonists have been shown to inhibit microbial attachment and host cell entry in vitro and reduce virulence in vivo. Together, these observations underscore the biological significance of proteoglycan-pathogen interactions in infectious diseases.