Tay-Sachs disease is an inborn lysosomal disease characterized by excessive cerebral accumulation of GM2. The catabolism of GM2 to GM3 in man requires beta-hexosaminidase A (HexA) and a protein cofactor, the GM2 activator. Thus, Tay-Sachs disease can be caused by the deficiency of either HexA or the GM2 activator. The same cofactor found in mouse shares 74.1% amino acid identity (67% nucleotide identity) with the human counterpart. Between the two activators, the mouse GM2 activator can effectively stimulate the hydrolysis of both GM2 and asialo-GM2 (GA2) by HexA and, to a lesser extent, also stimulate HexB to hydrolyze GA2, whereas the human activator is ineffective in stimulating the hydrolysis of GA2 (Yuziuk, J. A., Bertoni, C., Beccari, T., Orlacchio, A., Wu, Y.-Y., Li, S.-C., and Li, Y.-T. (1998) J. Biol. Chem. 273, 66-72). To understand the role of these two activators in stimulating the hydrolyses of GM2 and GA2, we have constructed human/mouse chimeric GM2 activators and studied their specificities. We have identified a narrow region (Asn(106)-Tyr(114)) in the mouse cDNA sequence that might be responsible for stimulating the hydrolysis of GA2. Replacement of the corresponding site in the human sequence with the specific mouse sequence converted the ineffective human activator into an effective chimeric protein for stimulating the hydrolysis of GA2. This chimeric activator protein, like the mouse protein, is also able to stimulate the hydrolysis of GA2 by HexB. The mouse model of human type B Tay-Sachs disease recently engineered by the targeted disruption of the Hexa gene showed less severe clinical manifestation than found in human patients. This has been considered to be the result of the catabolism of GM2 via converting it to GA2 and further hydrolysis of GA2 to lactosylceramide by HexB with the assistance of mouse GM2 activator protein. The chimeric activator protein that bears the characteristics of the mouse GM2 activator may therefore be able to induce an alternative catabolic pathway for GM2 in human type B Tay-Sachs patients.