We have previously shown that the heterodimeric cytokine interleukin-12, and the homodimer of its larger subunit p40, both bind to heparin and heparan sulfate with relatively high affinity. In the present study we characterised these interactions using a series of chemically modified heparins as competitive inhibitors. Human interleukin-12 and p40 homodimer show indistinguishable binding profiles with a panel of heparin derivatives, but that of murine interleukin-12 is distinct. Heparin markedly protects the human and murine p40 subunits, but not the p35 subunits, from cleavage by the bacterial endoprotease LysC, further implicating the larger subunit as the location of the heparin binding site. Moreover the essential role of the carboxyterminal D3 domain in heparin binding is established by the failure of a truncated construct of the p40 subunit lacking this domain to bind. Predictive docking calculations indicate that a cluster of basic residues at the tip of the exposed C′D′ loop within D3 is important in heparin binding. However since the human and murine C′D′ loops differ considerably in length, the mode and three dimensional orientation of heparin binding are likely to differ substantially between the human and murine p40s. Thus overall the binding of IL-12 via its p40 subunit to heparin-related polysaccharides of the extracellular matrix appears to be functionally important since it has been conserved across mammalian species despite this structural divergence.