The glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) hyaluronic acid and heparin were added (10 micrograms and 100 micrograms/ml to golden hamster sperm suspensions previously incubated for 4.5 h under capacitating conditions. After additions, sperm were incubated for 5-15 min and acrosome reactions (AR) assayed in motile sperm by phase contrast microscopy. Hyaluronic acid and heparin significantly stimulated AR over control levels. Hyaluronic acid did not stimulate AR 15 min after addition to sperm previously incubated for only 2.5 h. Pre-incubation of hyaluronic acid with streptomyces hyaluronidase destroyed the ability of that GAG to stimulate the AR. These results indicate that GAGs (at least one of which, hyaluronic acid, is present in the oocyte cumulus oophorous) can rapidly stimulate the acrosome reaction in motile previously capacitated hamster sperm.