The tectorial membrane is a gel-like, acellular connective tissue overlying the microscopic organ of Corti - the auditory sensory structure. It is instrumental in the sound-synchronous deflection of the stereocilia of the hair cells, a central event in auditory transduction. It is well established that collagen, primarily type II, constitutes the major protein of the tectorial membrane, with smaller amounts of types IX and XI also present. However, conclusive information on the proteoglycans in this structure is lacking. Tectorial membranes were extracted with a 4 M guanidine-HCl solvent, and proteoglycans isolated after ethanol precipitation and collagenase treatment. A colorimetric assay based on the binding of the cationic dye safranin O to glycosaminoglycans, in combination with enzymatic techniques, detected significant amounts of chondroitin sulfate and keratan sulfate (0.29 and 0.17% on a wet weight basis, respectively). Agarose-polyacrylamide electrophoresis of chondroitinase-digested samples revealed a core protein with a similar molecular mass to that of the large cartilage proteoglycan aggrecan. This proteoglycan reacted with the antibody 3-B-3 (recognizing modified chondroitin 6-sulfate linkage region oligosaccharides). Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis revealed several low molecular mass proteins which reacted with 5-D-4, specific for keratan sulfate, one of which showed characteristics of fibromodulin. Comparison of the quantitative aspects of various connective tissue components of tectonal membrane with other type II collagen-containing structures revealed that this tissue resembles highly hydrated cartilage.