Heparin-binding growth factor I (HBGF I), previously designated as endothelial cell growth factor, is a potent mitogen for endothelial cells in vitro, which may prove useful for promoting endothelial regeneration in vivo. Analysis of the pharmacokinetics and organ distribution of HBGF I is necessary before use of HBGF I as a pharmacological agent. Consequently, pharmacological studies were carried out with [125I]HBGF I in the rat. Intravenous injections of HBGF I were given with or without heparin (2.5 units/ng HBGF I). Blood concentrations of HBGF I decreased by one half 17 seconds after HBGF I bolus. This time was prolonged to 60 seconds when HBGF I was injected with heparin. The elimination half-life of HBGF I was 14 minutes in the presence of heparin. The highest concentrations of HBGF I following intravenous bolus were found in kidney, liver, and spleen, and the lowest in fat and brain. Heparin increased HBGF I concentrations in blood and all organs measured except kidney, which was significantly decreased (p less than 0.01). Intact HBGF I was recoverable from blood 5 minutes following intravenous administration. HBGF I underwent near-complete proteolytic digestion after more prolonged ex vivo incubation with rat plasma, but HBGF I was protected from proteolysis when incubations were conducted in the presence of heparin. Thus, it is feasible that HBGF I can be administered as a pharmacological agent in the presence of heparin. Further studies assessing acceleration of in vivo endothelial growth using HBGF I with heparin appear warranted.