Three distinct transmembrane glycoproteins bind fibroblast growth factor (FGF) family members. These include heparan sulfate proteoglycans, the tyrosine kinase-containing FGF receptors (FGFRs), and a cysteine-rich FGF receptor (CFR). The four FGFRs are thought to mediate FGF-signaling events but require the participation of the heparan sulfate proteoglycans to bind FGFs and transduce intracellular signals. However, a number of groups have proposed that FGF action requires events independent of FGFR activation. CFR, a high affinity FGF-binding protein, was first isolated from chicken embryos. To better understand the interactions between CFR and FGFs, we have constructed a series of CFR deletion mutants and CFR fragments. Analysis of these has identified a approximately 200-amino acid domain that constitutes a CFR FGF binding site. A CFR fragment of 450 residues, CFR290-740, binds FGF-2 with an affinity indistinguishable from the full-length molecule, whereas smaller fragments display greatly reduced FGF binding. Although CFR binds heparin with high affinity, an analysis of the heparin-CFR interaction failed to identify a linear sequence containing a heparin binding site. Two types of FGF binding sites were identified: an ionic strength and heparin-independent site that represents FGF binding to CFR290-740 and an additional FGF binding site that is heparan sulfate-dependent and sensitive to high ionic strength. This latter site is likely to bind FGF indirectly via heparan sulfate binding to CFR. FGF-2 peptides that encompass a sequence implicated in FGF-2 binding to FGFRs also block FGF-2 binding to CFR. Our data suggest that binding of FGFs to CFR and FGFRs is mutually exclusive, since the CFR FGF binding site does not require heparan sulfate, and similar regions on FGF-2 interact with both FGFRs and CFR.