Recent biochemical studies have shown that the cytoplasmic islet cell–antibody autoantigen has properties of a monosialoganglioside (GM). To characterize islet glycolipids and ascertain whether islets express unique gangliosides, we determined the pattern of ganglioside expression in whole human pancreas and isolated human islets using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and high-performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC). The major gangliosides detected in glycolipid extracts of whole human pancreas were GM3, GD3 (disialoganglioside), and in a lesser amount, a GD1a-comigrating ganglioside. In contrast to whole human pancreas, isolated human islets were found to predominantly express GM3, an acidic glycolipid comigrating with GM2, and a ganglioside with mobility between GM2 and GM1 by both HPLC and HPTLC. Quantitation of the major ganglioside UV peaks seen on HPLC gave the following results. In whole pancreas, GM3 represented 66.7% of total gangliosides detected; an asialoglycolipid comigrating with GM2, 2.0%; a ganglioside migrating between GM2 and GM1, 2.6%; GD3, 22.6%; and a GD1a-comigrating ganglioside, 6.1%. In isolated islets, these components were found at the following levels: GM3, 14.9%; GM2-comigrating glycolipid, 74.2%; a ganglioside migrating between GM2 and GM1, 9.8%; GD3, 1.1%; and the GD1a-comigrating ganglioside, not detectable.

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