In the mouse fibroblast cell line C3H 10T1/2 and the chicken fibroblast cell line DF1, the ganglioside GM3 is the major glycosphingolipid component of the plasma membrane. Expression of the viral oncoprotein Jun (v-Jun) induces transformed cell clones with greatly reduced levels of GM3 and GM3 synthase (lactosylceramide alpha2,3-sialyltransferase) mRNA in both 10T1/2 and DF1 cell cultures. Compared with nontransformed controls, v-Jun transfectants show enhanced ability of anchorage-independent growth, and their growth rates as adherent cells are increased. When the mouse GM3 synthase gene is transfected with the pcDNA vector into v-Jun-transformed 10T1/2 cells, the levels of GM3 synthase and corresponding mRNA are restored to those of control cells. Reexpression of GM3 correlates with a reduced ability of the cells to form colonies in nutrient agar. Similarly, when the newly cloned chicken GM3 synthase gene is transfected into v-Jun-transformed DF1 with the pcDNA vector, the GM3 synthase level is restored to that of control cells, and the ability of the cells to form agar colonies is reduced. The levels of GM3 in the cell also affect membrane microdomains. The complex of GM3 with tetraspanin CD9 and integrin alpha5beta1 inhibits motility and invasiveness. The amounts of this complex are greatly reduced in transformed cells. Expression of GM3 and consequent reversion of the transformed phenotype results in increased levels of that microdomain complex.