To determine whether antibodies to acidic glycolipids of nervous tissue are present in patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), sera from patients with GBS and appropriate control subjects were tested by a thin-layer chromatogram overlay technique. Chromatograms on which the whole ganglioside fractions from peripheral nerve and brain had been separated were overlaid with appropriate dilutions of the patients' sera (1:100 or greater), and antibody binding was revealed with a radiolabeled or peroxidase-labeled second antibody. Antibodies to ganglioside antigens were detected in 5 of 26 patients with GBS. IgG antibodies in 1 patient reacted strongly with LM1 (sialosyl paragloboside), the major ganglioside of human peripheral nervous system myelin, and its hexaose analog (sialosyl lactosaminyl paragloboside), a minor ganglioside of human peripheral nervous system myelin. The antibody titer in this patient fell 8-fold over 6 weeks coincident with clinical improvement. IgG from 2 other patients with GBS reacted with GD1b ganglioside, and the antibody titers in these patients also decreased substantially with clinical improvement. IgM antibodies in the sera from 2 other patients reacted with GD1a and GT1b gangliosides, which have a shared terminal carbohydrate sequence. Antibodies to gangliosides were not detected in the sera from 19 patients with other neurological diseases or from 10 normal subjects, and the frequency with which antiganglioside antibodies occurred in the patients with GBS was significantly greater than that in the combined control subjects (p less than 0.01). The results demonstrate relatively high levels of antibodies to gangliosides in some GBS patients.