Renal involvement in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) affects the disease outcome. In order to advance the diagnosis and the initiation of therapy, non-invasive diagnostic techniques are required. In this study, urinary glycosaminoglycans (GAG) and heparan sulphate (HS) were measured in 26 patients with biopsy-proven lupus nephritis and compared to 16 healthy controls. Uronic acid as a representative of GAGs in urine was determined spectrophotometrically with the meta-hydroxydiphenyl, following acid treatment. HS was determined as hexosamine by the method of Smith and Gilkerson. The median values of GAG (3.99 mg/g crea./day) and HS (2.41 mg/g crea./day) in patients were significantly (P = 0.001) higher than in the control group (1.98 and 0.87, respectively). There was a positive correlation between GAG and HS values (P = 0.000, r = 0.924) in SLE patients. There were no differences in HS excretion, microalbuminuria and SLE-DAI scores between different classes of lupus nephritis. However, GAG values in class 3 nephritis were significantly (P = 0.033) higher than from both class 2 and class 4 lupus nephritis. There were no differences in all the measured parameters between normoalbuminuric, microalbuminuric and macroproteinuric patients. Furthermore, there were no correlations between GAG, HS excretions and SLE-DAI scores or microalbuminuria. These results suggest that urinary GAG and HS may serve as useful, independent and non-invasive markers of lupus nephritis.