Histidine, histamine and polymyxin B affinity sorbents were employed for the removal of Escherichia coli-derived endotoxins. Their effectiveness was compared with those of poly-L-lysine-Sepharose and DEAE-Sepharose. All sorbents reduced the concentration of endotoxins from an E. coli culture filtrate to tolerable levels. However, their effectiveness was not higher than that of the anion exchanger, which displayed clearance rates of up to 15,000. Endotoxin removal from protein solutions depended on the net charge of the desired protein. Lysozyme as a model for positively charged proteins enhanced endotoxin removal. In contrast, only low initial contamination levels (< 34 EU/ml) were reduced to tolerable levels from bovine serum albumin (BSA) as the negatively charged protein model owing to competition of BSA and endotoxins for adsorption sites. Hence also a low BSA recovery was observed after the treatment whereas the lysozyme recovery was almost 100%. At pH values below the isoelectric point of BSA, endotoxin removal was also more effective. The best conditions for the decontamination were found at neutral pH and low ionic strength (< or = 20 mM phosphate). Ionic forces between ligands and endotoxins are dominant at this ionic strength; hydrophobic interactions are not very effective. Hence the selectivities of all sorbents towards endotoxins are not exceptionally high. DEAE-anion exchangers are the most suitable sorbents for the removal of endotoxins from solutions accommodating positively charged proteins owing to their low cost and high capacity. Poly-L-lysine-Sepharose was most effective for the removal of small amounts of endotoxins from solutions of negatively charged proteins. The "affinity ligands" histamine, histidine and polymyxin B were effective for the removal of endotoxins from E. coli filtrate; however, their effectiveness decreased dramatically in the presence of BSA and it was lower than for poly-L-lysine- and DEAE-Sepharose in the presence of lysozyme.