Extracellular proteoglycans (PGs) purified from cultured human arterial endothelial cells were tested for their effects on the proliferation of human vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC). Fractions containing perlecan, the basement membrane heparan sulphate (HS) PG, the large chondrotin sulphate (CS) proteoglycan from connective tissue and other immunoreactive CS did not inhibit the proliferation of human VSMC. Native endothelial extracellular matrix, which was shown to contain the same PGs, demonstrated a pronounced stimulatory effect on the proliferation of human VSMCs. This stimulatory effect was not removed by pre-incubation of the matrix with 1M NaCl, heparin, platelet extract or plasmin. These experiments demonstrate that PGs produced by human arterial endothelial cells do not inhibit the proliferation of VSMC. These data do not support the hypothesis that human endothelial cells, in vivo control the activation or proliferation of VSMCs directly by the secretion of a non-proliferative molecule. Instead they support the hypothesis that the endothelial cells counteract intimal hyperplasia of VSMC indirectly by providing a barrier from activating factors in the plasma.