A deficiency of the lysosomal enzyme arylsulfatase A (ASA) causes the lysosomal storage disorder metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD). The diagnosis of MLD is straightforward in cases with deficient leukocyte or fibroblast ASA activity and a typical clinical history. However, several atypical and late-onset forms of MLD have been described. The diagnosis is also complicated by the high frequency of presumably benign polymorphisms at the ASA gene locus that are associated with markedly diminished in vitro ASA activity. Additional diagnostic tools are needed in the clinically and (or) enzymatically atypical cases. Although analyses of urinary sulfatides have been reported to be helpful in the diagnosis of MLD, previously described methods are complex and incompletely characterized and validated. We developed an improved method for determining urinary sulfatides and applied it to a cohort of individuals with MLD. The sulfatides are extracted from urine, separated from glycerol-based lipids by alkaline hydrolysis, isolated by ion-exchange chromatography, and hydrolyzed to galactosylceramide, which is then perbenzoylated and quantified by HPLC. This assay provides excellent resolution of sulfatides from other lipids and good analytical precision. In addition, the urinary sulfatide concentrations of healthy controls (mean +offSD: 0.16 +/- 0.07 nmol/mg creatinine; range: 0.07-0.34; n = 18) are clearly distinguished from those of individuals with MLD (7.6 +/- 6.1 nmol/mg creatine; 1.2-24.2; n = 20).