Medulloblastoma biopsies are heterogenous and might contain normal brain tissue, which limits the usefullness of such tumor material for biochemical analyses. We have, therefore, examined the gangliosides and their metabolism using the medulloblastoma cell lines, Daoy and D341 Med, cultured both in vitro and as xenografts in nude mice. The ganglioside patterns in the Daoy showed a switch from a high GM2, 70% (mol% of total ganglioside sialic acid) and low lactoseries gangliosides (2%) content in monolayer cultures, to a high proportion of lactoseries gangliosides (50%) and virtually no GM2 (1%) in xenografts, but an increased proportion of other a-series gangliosides. The D341 Med showed a similar change regarding the lacto-series gangliosides from 1% in suspension culture to 10% in xenografts. The activity of five glycosyltransferases, GM3, GD3, GM2, GM1 and LA2 synthases, did not parallell the ganglioside patterns and could not account for the noted variations therein. In the Daoy cell line the LA2 synthase as well as the GM2 synthase activity was relatively high in both culture systems, despite the marked difference in the expression of GM2 and the lactoseries gangliosides. These results suggest that environmental factors play a crucial role for the in vivo activity of the glycosyltransferases. © 1991.