Changes of glycosphingolipids (GSLs) in the bipotential cell differentiation of human promyelocytic leukemia cell line HL-60 cells were investigated by high-performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC), with special reference to morphological and functional changes, such as phagocytosis and nitroblue tetrazolium (NBT) reduction. Nine molecular species of neutral GSLs and 13 or more species of sialo-GSLs, ie, gangliosides, were detected on the HPTLC chromatograms for untreated HL-60 cells. The major components were ceramide dihexoside (CDH), GM3, and sialo-paragloboside (SPG). When HL- 60 cells were induced to differentiate into both myeloid mature cells and macrophage-like cells in vitro, no new molecular species of GSLs specific for one of the cell differentiations was induced, but distinctive quantitative changes in the GSL composition were definitely observed between the two cell differentiations. During the myeloid differentiation induced by either dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) or retinoic acid (RA), CDH, paragloboside (PG), and gangliosides having longer sugar moieties characteristically increased with a concomitant decrease of GSLs with shorter sugar chains, such as ceramide monohexoside (CMH) and GM3, and the GSL composition profile of myeloid differentiation- induced HL-60 cells became more similar to that of normal human granulocytes. However, some marked differences were noted between the induced HL-60 cells and the normal granulocytes, especially in the ganglioside compositions. These differences might reflect either some deficiency in the in vitro myeloid differentiation or some leukemic properties of HL-60 cells. In marked contrast to the change of GSL composition during myeloid differentiation, a remarkable increase of GM3, with a concurrent marked decrease of CDH, was observed in the process of cell differentiation into macrophage-like cells with 12-O- tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA), which suggested an increase in the biosynthesis of GM3. These results demonstrate that HL-60 cells express distinct GSL profiles, depending not only on maturation stages but also on differentiation directions.