Gangliosides appear to be important target molecules for immunological effector mechanisms on neuro-ectodermal tumors. Therefore in vitro studies were performed to examine whether ganglioside GD3, which is highly expressed on the cell surface of cultured human melanoma cells, is being shed into the culture medium. Measurable quantities of gangliosides GM3 and in particular GD3 were shed by the melanoma cells we have tested as detected on thin-layer chromatograms (TLC) stained with orcinol. Ganglioside GD3 was also evidenced by immunostaining with anti-GD3 MAb and by ELISA. The concentration of GD3 in the supernatant of human melanoma cells depended on the ganglioside pattern of the cell line. Cells containing high levels of GD3 shed large amounts, cells with low levels shed no detectable GD3. Ganglioside GD3 was detectable in sera, but no major quantitative differences were observed in sera of patients with GD3-positive tumors and normal controls. This points to a local accumulation of ganglioside GD3 at the tumor site.