Glycosphingolipids were determined in human spinal cord, cauda equina and femoral nerve of 10 subjects aged 20-70 years and in dorsal and ventral roots of four subjects aged 17-60 years. Myelin was isolated from corresponding tissue. Axons were isolated from the four specimens of dorsal and ventral roots. The concentration (mean and standard error of mean) of gangliosides in spinal cord was 0.80 +/- 0.03 mumol sialic acid/g fresh tissue, in cauda equina 0.40 +/- 0.02 mumol/g and in femoral nerve 0.23 +/- 0.01 mumol/g. In spinal cord only trace amounts of glycosphingolipids of the lacto series were found, and the ganglioside pattern differed from that in cerebral white matter by a relatively high proportion of GD3 and a low proportion of GD1a. The ganglioside patterns were almost identical in cauda equina and femoral nerve--the major ganglioside being 3'-LM1, 0.07 and 0.04 mumol/g respectively. Another ganglioside of the lacto series, 3'-HexLM1, was 25% of 3'-LM1. Peripheral nerve also contained three acidic glycosphingolipids in addition to sulfatide--LK1 and HexLK1 belonging to the glycosphingolipid lacto series and containing glucuronyl-3-sulfate instead of sialic acid, and inositolphosphoryl galactosylceramide. The dorsal (sensory) and ventral (motor) roots had the same major membrane lipid composition but the ganglioside concentration was 30% higher in sensory than motor nerve and myelin. The patterns of gangliotetraose gangliosides were, however, the same in motor and sensory myelin and axons. The ceramide composition of the gangliosides is also reported.