The ability of apolipoprotein E (apoE) to bind to cell-surface glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) is important for lipoprotein remnant catabolism. Using surface plasmon resonance, we previously showed that the binding of apoE to heparin is a two-step process; the initial binding involves fast electrostatic interaction, followed by a slower hydrophobic interaction. Here we examined the contributions of the N-and C-terminal domains to each step of the binding of apoE isoforms to heparan sulfate (HS) and dermatan sulfate (DS). ApoE3 bound to less sulfated HS and DS with a decreased favorable free energy of binding in the first step compared to heparin, indicating that the degree of sulfation has a major effect on the electrostatic interaction of GAGs with apoE. Mutation of a key Lys residue in the N-terminal heparin binding site of apoE significantly affected this electrostatic interaction. Progressive truncation of the C-terminal α-helical regions which favors the monomeric form of apoE3 greatly weakened the ability of apoE3 to bind to HS, with a much reduced favorable free energy of binding of the first step, suggesting that the C-terminal domain contributes to the GAG binding of apoE by the oligomerization effect. In agreement with this, dimerization of the apoE3 N-terminal fragment via disulfide linkage restored the electrostatic interaction of apoE with HS. Significantly, apoE4 exhibited much stronger binding to HS and DS than apoE2 or apoE3 in both lipid-free and lipidated states, perhaps resulting from enhanced electrostatic interaction through the N-terminal domain. This isoform difference in GAG binding of apoE may be physiologically significant such as in the retention of apoE-containing lipoproteins in the arterial wall. © 2008 American Chemical Society.