The biochemical characteristics are described for a melanoma-associated glycoprotein antigen, whose expression depends on stage of tumor progression and melanocytic differentiation. This antigen, identified using a monoclonal antibody which specifically stains melanoma cells in immunoperoxidase assay of fixed tissue sections, is synthesized as a 30,000-Da precursor and then processed to a 30,000- to 60,000-Da sialylated glycoprotein. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis of the antigen resolved more than 20 forms, heterogeneous in both charge and molecular weight. The kinetics of post-translational processing, the sensitivity of processing to tunicamycin, and the molecular weight of the oligosaccharide chains indicate that the oligosaccharides are N-linked. Amino acid sequencing of the antigen purified by immunoaffinity chromatography and by high-pressure liquid chromatography or polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis allowed the assignment of the first 20 acids.