When rat liver cytosol containing [3H]dexamethasone-glucocorticoid receptor complex is exposed to immobilized heparin (Sepharose-heparin; Seph-hep) the steroid receptor complex binds to the substituted Sepharose avidly [Kd = 3.5 (+/- 1.7) X 10(-10) M], and 80-90% of the receptor present is adsorbed to the solid phase after 40 min at 0 degree C. The binding is enhanced by Mn2+ (10 mM) and Mg2+, whereas Ca2+ and Sr2+ are ineffective. Sodium molybdate (10 mM) does not influence the reaction but enhances receptor stability. Moreover, binding of the receptor to Seph-hep is dependent on the ionic strength of the medium, because binding is totally reversed by 300 mM KCl. The bound [3H]dexamethasone-receptor complex can be recovered from Seph-hep with solutions (4 mg/mL) of heparin (95% release), dextran sulfate (88%), and chondroitin sulfate (63%); total calf liver RNA is less effective (9%), whereas dextran, D-glucosamine, N-acetyl-D-glucosamine, D-glucuronic acid, and sheared calf thymus DNA are totally ineffective (less than 3%). Both "native" and temperature "transformed" forms of the glucocorticoid receptor interact with immobilized heparin. These results strongly suggest that the receptor site that binds heparin is distinct from that binding DNA. An immediate application of this newly found ability of the glucocorticoid receptor to interact with heparin is the use of Seph-hep for affinity chromatography purification of the glucocorticoid receptor. A purification of 10-fold, with a recovery of 55-65%, can be achieved by using either 4 mg/mL heparin or 300 mM KCl to elute [3H]dexamethasone-receptor bound to the resin.