Glycosaminoglycans are found in extracellular matrix and on the cell surface in the form of proteoglycans. There is evidence that these molecules regulate biological processes, including cell survival, migration and angiogenesis. Preeclampsia is a common pregnancy disorder associated with insufficient placental development. This study aimed to determine the concentrations of glycosaminoglycans and the proteoglycan syndecan-1 within villous trophoblast and to investigate changes associated with preeclampsia. Seventy-five placental samples collected from third trimester singleton pregnancies were divided into term placentas following labour onset, gestational age-matched placentas prior to labour onset and preterm placentas. Preterm placentas were divided into three gestational age-matched groups, spontaneous preterm labour, preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM) and preterm preeclampsia. Sulphated glycosaminoglycan (sGAG) concentrations in placental extracts were quantified using a modified 1,9-dimethylmethylene blue assay. Syndecan-1 expression was localised using immunohistochemistry and concentrations in placental extracts determined by immunoassay. Preterm placentas had significantly lower sGAG concentrations compared to term tissues and concentrations were significantly lower in preeclampsia compared to spontaneous preterm labour (medians 5.80 and 10.0 μg/mg protein respectively, P<0.05). Syndecan-1 expression was localised to syncytiotrophoblast and median concentrations were lower in preeclampsia compared to PPROM material (preeclampsia median = 41.7, PPROM 74.4 ng/mg tissue) but not significantly different to concentrations in spontaneous preterm labour. Multivariate analysis revealed that decreased sGAG and syndecan-1 in preeclampsia were independent of labour, gestational age and birthweight centile. These findings may provide insights into a role for these molecules in the pathophysiology of preeclampsia.