Proteoglycans are of fundamental importance to the normal functioning of the cornea. They consist of a core protein to which one or more glycosaminoglycan chains are attached. Cell surface proteoglycans are known to mediate many aspects of cell behaviour including cell adhesion, control of extracellular matrix deposition, cell proliferation, cell migration, leukocyte adhesion and modulation of growth factor activity. This paper describes the first investigation into the distribution and function of the three main classes of proteoglycans on human corneal endothelium. Immuno-gold labelling techniques were used at the light, scanning and transmission electron microscope level to localise heparan sulphate, chondroitin sulphate and keratan sulphate proteoglycans on human corneal endothelium. Human corneas were freeze-wounded and kept in organ culture for 3 days in order to study the distribution of proteoglycans on migrating corneal endothelium. An Optimas image analysis system was used to quantify the change in proteoglycan labelling during cell migration. Labelling for chondroitin sulphate and heparan sulphate was at very low levels on normal corneal endothelium while keratan sulphate labelling was at high levels. The wound healing experiments showed that migrating cells had increased labelling for heparan sulphate and chondroitin sulphate with greatly decreased labelling for keratan sulphate. Statistical analysis showed these changes were highly significant (P<0.001). Transmission electron microscopy revealed that chondroitin sulphate and keratan sulphate were present throughout Descemet's membrane while heparan sulphate was concentrated at the interface of Descemet's membrane and the migrating corneal endothelial cells. The pattern of occurrence of chondroitin sulphate, heparan sulphate and keratan sulphate on the human endothelium in normal and wounded cornea suggests that these proteoglycans are linked to the process of cell migration.