A survey of defined species of cell surface and extracellular matrix heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPG) was performed in a search for cellular proteoglycans that can promote bFGF receptor binding and biological activity. Of the various affinity-purified HSPGs tested, perlecan, the large basement membrane HSPG, is found to induce high affinity binding of bFGF both to cells deficient in HS and to soluble FGF receptors. Heparin-dependent mitogenic activity of bFGF is strongly augmented by perlecan. Monoclonal antibodies to perlecan extract the receptor binding promoting activity from active HSPG preparations. In a rabbit ear model for in vivo angiogenesis, perlecan is a potent inducer of bFGF-mediated neovascularization. These results identify perlecan as a major candidate for a bFGF low affinity, accessory receptor and an angiogenic modulator.