OBJECTIVE: Binding of thyroglobulin (Tg) to heparin allows efficient Tg interaction with its endocytic receptor, megalin. Rat Tg (rTg) binds to heparin using an exposed carboxyl terminal region (RELPSRRLKRPLPVK, Arg2489-Lys2503) rich in positively charged residues which is, however, not entirely conserved in human Tg (hTg) (Arg2489-Glu2503, REPPARALKRSLWVE). Here, we investigated whether and how this difference affects binding of heparin. DESIGN: To compare binding of heparin to rTg and hTg. To investigate the role of the sequence 2489-2503 using a peptide-based approach. METHODS: Binding of biotin-labeled heparin to rTg, hTg and to Tg peptides was measured in solid phase assays. RESULTS: Heparin bound to rTg with moderately high affinity (K(d): 34.2 nmol/l, K(i): 37.6 nmol/l) and to hTg with lower affinity (K(d): 118 nmol/l, K(i): 480 nmol/l) and to a lower extent. Binding was dose-dependent and saturable, and was reduced by several specific competitors (Tg itself, unlabeled heparin, lactoferrin). Heparin bound to synthetic peptides corresponding to the rat (rTgP) and to the human (hTgP) Tg sequence 2489-2503. Heparin bound to rTgP to a greater extent and with greater affinity than to hTgP. An antibody against hTgP reduced binding of heparin to intact hTg by 30%, suggesting that in hTg this region is, in part, involved in heparin binding, but also that other regions account for most of the binding. Starting from the sequence of rTgP, we designed 6 synthetic 'mutant' peptides by replacing one amino acid residue of rTgP with the corresponding residue of the sequence of hTgP. Heparin bound to 5 of 6 mutant peptides to a lower extent and with lower affinity than to rTgP. CONCLUSIONS: In spite of a reduced binding ability of the sequence 2489-2503, hTg binds to heparin, in part, using alternative, as yet unidentified, binding sites. Substitution of both positive and neutral residues within the sequence 2489-2503 reduced heparin-binding, suggesting that not only charge, but also sequence and/or conformation, may account for the heparin-binding ability of this region of Tg.