Heparan sulphate (HS) was isolated after proteolytic digestion of cerebral cortex, obtained at autopsy, of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and of control subjects. Deaminative cleavage in combination with selective radiolabelling procedures showed that the N-acetylated regions in the intact polysaccharides ranged from isolated residues to approximately 10 consecutive N-acetylated disaccharide units, without any apparent difference between AD and control HS. The yield of disaccharide deamination products was slightly higher with AD than with control HS, suggesting a differential distribution of N-sulphate groups. Separation of the disaccharides by anion-exchange h.p.l.c. yielded four mono-O-sulphated and one di-O-sulphated disaccharide; these components occurred in strikingly similar proportions in all cerebral HS preparations (except polysaccharide from neonatal brain) irrespective of the age of the individual and the histopathology of the cortex specimen. No significant difference was noted between HS obtained from control and from AD tissue. By contrast, the composition of HS isolated from brain differed significantly from that of HS preparations derived from other human organs.