Human Onchocerca volvulus infection sera were found to recognize zwitterionic glycolipids of O. volvulus and to cross-react with those of other parasitic nematodes (Ascaris suum, Setaria digitata and Litomosoides sigmodontis). By the use of an epitope-specific monoclonal antibody, zwitterionic glycolipids of all these nematode species were observed to contain the antigenic determinant phosphocholine. A hyperimmune serum specific for arthro-series glycolipid structures reacted with the various neutral glycolipids of all these nematodes, which demonstrated that their oligosaccharide moieties belonged to the arthro-series of protostomial glycolipids. These results indicated that arthro-series glycosphingolipids carrying, in part, phosphocholine substituents, represent highly conserved, antigenic glycolipid markers of parasitic nematodes. Three glycolipid components of the O. volvulus zwitterionic fraction were structurally characterized by matrix-assisted laser-desorption/ionization time-of-flight MS, methylation analysis and exoglycosidase treatment. Their chemical structures were elucidated to be phosphocholine-6GlcNAc(beta1-3)Man(beta1-4)Glc(1-1)ceramide, GalNAc(beta1-4)[phosphocholine-6]GlcNAc(beta1-3)Man(beta1-4)Glc(1-1) ceramide and Gal(alpha1-3)GalNAc(beta1-4)[phosphocholine-6]GlcNAc(beta1-3)Man(beta 1-4)Glc(1-1)ceramide for the zwitterionic ceramide tri-, tetra- and penta-hexosides respectively. The ceramide composition was found to be dominated by 2-hydroxylated docosanoic (C(22h:0)), tricosanoic (C(23h:0)) and tetracosanoic (C(24h:0)) acids, and C(17) sphingosine (C(d17:1)) (where (h) is hydroxylated and (d) is dihydroxylated).