Background Adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV-2) attachment and internalization is thought to be mediated by host cell membrane-associated heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPG). Lack of HSPG on the apical membrane of respiratory epithelial cells has been identified as a reason for inefficient rAAV-2 infection in pulmonary applications in-vivo. The aim of this investigation was to determine the necessity of cell membrane HSPG for efficient infection by rAAV-2. Results Rates of transduction with rAAV2-CMV-EGFP3 in several different immortalized airway epithelial cell lines were determined at different multiplicities of infection (MOI) before and after removal of membrane HSPG by heparinase III. Removal of HSPG decreased the efficacy of infection with rAAV2 by only 30–35% at MOI ≤ 100 for all of respiratory cell lines tested, and had even less effect at an MOI of 1000. Studies in mutant Chinese Hamster Ovary cell lines known to be completely deficient in surface HSPG also demonstrated only moderate effect of absence of HSPG on rAAV-2 infection efficacy. However, mutant CHO cells lacking all membrane proteoglycans demonstrated dramatic reduction in susceptibility to rAAV-2 infection, suggesting a role of membrane glycosaminoglycans other than HSPG in mediating rAAV-2 infection. Conclusion Lack of cell membrane HSPG in pulmonary epithelia and other cell lines results in only moderate decrease in susceptibility to rAAV-2 infection, and this decrease may be less important at high MOIs. Other cell membrane glycosaminoglycans can play a role in permitting attachment and subsequent rAAV-2 internalization. Targeting alternative membrane glycosaminoglycans may aid in improving the efficacy of rAAV-2 for pulmonary applications.