Glycoconjugate structure in upper gastrointestinal epithelium was studied using five lectins to determine the relationship between aberrant differentiation and glycoconjugate expression. Specimens of normal esophagus, stomach, and duodenum were examined and compared with specimens of columnar metaplasia in the esophagus (Barrett's esophagus) and specimens of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus and stomach. Specific terminal glycoconjugate structures were found for the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Minor differences were found between the antral and fundic gland mucosae, reflecting their respective cell populations. In biopsies of Barrett's esophagus, gastric-type columnar metaplasia expressed glycoconjugates indistinguishable from those in the normal stomach. In specialized-type columnar metaplasia, a more restricted expression of glycoconjugates was seen resembling the normal duodenum. The presence of low grade dysplasia in Barrett's esophagus associated with adenocarcinoma had no impact on glycoconjugate expression. However, a distinctive difference in glycosylation was seen in high grade dysplasia of the columnar-lined esophagus and in adenocarcinoma of the esophagus and stomach. Barrett's esophagus is a morphological mosaic in which the glycoconjugate expression resembles that seen in the normal stomach and duodenum. However, in high grade dysplasia and carcinoma, variable deletion of glycoconjugate expression can be found.