Abstract The structural alterations in heparan sulfate produced by sulfate deprivation were studied in cell cultures of the Engelbreth-Holm-Swarm tumor. Tumor cells were labeled in vitro with [ 3H]glucosamine and/or [ 35S]sulfate in media containing either 300 μ m MgSO 4 or no added carrier sulfate, and the newly synthesized proteoglycans isolated by chromatography on DEAE-Sephacel. The proteoglycans isolated from low sulfate cultures showed a reduced affinity for the column eluting at lower salt concentrations compared with the proteoglycans isolated from cultures containing sulfate, suggesting that the former were undersulfated. Analysis of the isolated heparan sulfate side chains indicated that two pools of heparan sulfate were present which differed in their degree of sulfation. Both pools were synthesized by both high sulfate and low sulfate cultures, but the highly sulfated pool was the predominant form produced in sulfate containing cultures, while the undersulfated pool was the predominant form synthesized in low sulfate cultures. The more sulfated pool contained more N-sulfate than the less sulfated pool. Few if any free amino groups were detected in either pool, suggesting that the initial deacetylation step in the biosynthesis of heparan sulfate is tightly coupled to the N-sulfation step in the cells.