The role of cell-surface proteoglycans in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection of T-cell lines was investigated. HIV-1-susceptible lymphoblastic T-cell lines, MT-4 and H9, were analyzed for proteoglycan synthesis and found to make heparan sulfate (HS) and chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans. Enzymatic treatment of these cells with heparitinase, but not chondroitinase, significantly prevented HIV-1(IIIB) infection as measured by inhibition of cytopathicity, reverse transcriptase production, and syncytia formation. Sulfation of glycosaminoglycans HS chains was critical to viral entry as shown by inhibition of viral infection with sodium chlorate and its specific reversal with exogenous sulfate addition. Quantitation of direct virus binding to cells showed that treatment of cells with heparitinase inhibited HIV-1 binding to the T-cell surface. Exogenous HS added to cultures inhibited virus infection in a manner analogous to dextran sulfate, further supporting a functional role for HS in HIV-1 binding. These results provide evidence for participation of cell-surface HS proteoglycans in HIV-cell attachment and virus entry.