Heparin-binding growth factors (HBGFs) are known to stimulate bone repair when applied to bone lesions. Nevertheless, successful treatments are obtained with high protein doses since HBGFs are rapidly degraded in situ by multiple proteolytic activities associated with the inflammatory period of tissue healing. Like heparin or heparan sulfates, heparan-like molecules, named carboxymethyl-benzylamide-sulfonated dextrans (CMDBS), are known to potentiate fibroblast growth factor activities by stabilizing them against pH, thermal or proteolytic denaturations, and by enhancing their binding with cell surface receptors. We have postulated that CMDBS stimulate in vivo bone healing by interacting with endogenous HBGFs, spontaneously released in the wounded site. The effect of CMDBS on bone repair was studied in a skull defect model in rats by computer-assisted radio-morphometry and histomorphometry. Single application of CMDBS in a collagen vehicle to skull defects induced a dose-dependent increase in bone defect closure and new bone formation after 35 days. Complete bony bridging occurred in defects treated with 3 micrograms CMDBS, whereas bone formation was not observed in vehicle-treated defects which contained only dense fibrous connective tissue between the defect margins. These results indicate that heparan-like molecules, such as CMDBS, are able to induce bone regeneration of skull defects. This action is possibly mediated by potentiation of endogenous growth factor activities and/or by neutralization of proteolytic activities.