Recent studies have indicated that GM2-1, a pancreatic islet monosialo-ganglioside, is an islet-specific component whose expression is metabolically regulable and represents one of the target antigens of cytoplasmic islet cell antibodies. In the present study we aimed to biochemically characterize this molecule using a panel of biochemical techniques including gas chromatography, thin layer chromatography, enzymatic digestion and mass spectrometry. GM2-1 ganglioside was extracted from human pancreas and purified by thin-layer chromatography. Fatty acids in the ceramide (the hydrophobic portion of the molecule), identified by gas chromatography ranged from C16:1 to C24:1. The oligosaccharide chain was enzymatically digested by the sequential application of various exoglycosidases (neuraminidase followed by beta-galactosidase, followed by beta-hexosaminidase) and characterized by gas chromatography identification of the liberated sugars. The following structure was deducted from enzymatic studies and confirmed by mass spectrometry analysis: N-acetyl neuraminic acid-galactose-galactosamine-galactosamine-glucose-ceramide. This is a novel ganglioside structure, not yet described, which shares characteristics with a neuronal glycolipid autoantigen: the LM1 ganglioside. Both GM2-1 and LM1 have a single sialic acid residue in the terminal position, the same migration position on thin layer chromatography and the same number of carbohydrate moieties. In conclusion, we have characterized a novel islet-specific ganglioside molecule with unusual characteristics, such as the terminal sialic acid and the galactosamine residues, which may facilitate both its antigenicity and its involvement in beta-cell autoimmunity.