The basement membranes of bovine cornea are found to contain an angiogenic endothelial cell mitogen, basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF), as determined by heparin-affinity chromatography, immunoblotting, immunofluorescence, and stimulation of capillary endothelial cell proliferation. The growth factor appears to be bound to heparan sulfate and is released from the cornea by treatment with heparin, a hexasaccharide heparin fragment, heparan sulfate, or heparanase, but not by chondroitin sulfate or chondroitinase. These findings indicate that basement membranes of the cornea may serve as physiologic storage depots for an angiogenic molecule. Abnormal release of this growth factor could be responsible for corneal neovascularization in a variety of ocular diseases. Physiologic and pathologic neovascularization in other tissues may also be initiated by release of stored angiogenic factors from the basement membrane. The sequestration of angiogenic endothelial mitogens in the basement membrane may be a general mechanism for regulating their accessibility to vascular endothelium.