There is increasing evidence that cell-surface gangliosides play a role in tumor growth, progression and metastases. In order to determine the frequency of ganglioside GD3 in patients with metastatic malignant melanoma for further therapeutic trials, GD3 ganglioside expression was determined in 119 tissue samples. Of these melanomas, 93% (111/119) were R-24-positive, which indicates the value of this diagnostic marker for melanoma. To study the structural epitopes of gangliosides, 10 ganglioside antibodies with defined specificities and affinities were tested on over 100 fresh-frozen tissue specimens of human normal and melanoma tissues. All the antibodies tested recognize the ganglioside GD3, but vary in their cross-reactivity with other gangliosides. According to their epitope specificity, they can be divided into 5 groups. For example, the antibodies Z-21 and A-4 react like the previously established MAb R-24 with gangliosides GD3 and GQIb, and one MAb (Q-4) detects all gangliosides containing 2 connected sialic acids (GD3, GD2, GDIb, GTIb, GQIb). Specificity on TLC does not always correlate with specificity to melanoma tissues and vice-versa. For example, MAb A-4, which recognizes only GD3 and GQI b on TLC, shows no specific reactivity on tissues. Furthermore, antibodies with the same ganglioside specificity do not have the same staining pattern on human tissues. For example, MAb Z-21, which is directed against the same gangliosides as MAb R-24 on TLC, does not cross-react with as many neuroectodermal tissues as MAb R-24. Because of their distinct properties, some of these antibodies may be even more useful for immunodiagnosis and immunotherapy of malignant melanoma than MAb R-24.