GD3 is the ganglioside most abundantly expressed on the cell surface of human melanoma, and treatment with a murine MAb recognizing GD3 has induced major responses in a small proportion of patients with melanoma. We have therefore attempted to induce production of GD3 antibodies in melanoma patients by active immunization. We found, however, that vaccination with GD3-expressing melanoma cells or purified GD3 does not result in antibody production. We describe here attempts to overcome the poor immunogenicity of GD3 in patients with melanoma by chemical modification. GD3 lactones, GD3 amide and GD3 gangliosidol were synthesized, and the humoral immune response to these derivatives was analyzed. Immunization of melanoma patients with these GD3 derivatives resulted in production of IgM antibodies and, in the case of GD3 amide, also of IgG antibodies. The antibodies to the GD3 derivatives did not cross-react with GD3. This is in contrast to observations in the mouse, where GD3 lactone I induced antibodies that showed cross-reactivity with GD3. Thus, the human immune response was specifically directed toward the modified epitope, rather than to the native structure.