Four common sialic acids (Sia), NeuAc, N-glycolyl-neuraminic acid (NeuGc), 4-O-acetyl-N-acetylneuraminic acid (4-O-Ac-NeuAc), and 9-O-Ac-NeuAc were examined for activation to their corresponding CMP-sialic acid conjugates and subsequently for their transfer to glycoprotein oligosaccharides by purified mammalian sialyltransferases. CMP-sialic acid synthetases from calf brain and from bovine and equine submaxillary glands were found to convert NeuAc, NeuGc, and 9-O-Ac-NeuAc to their corresponding CMP-sailic acids. In contrast, no conversion of 4-O-Ac-NeuAc to CMP-4-O-Ac-NeuAc was observed for any of the three synthetases examined. A new procedure for the preparation of CMP-9-O-Ac-NeuAc, CMP-NeuGc, and CMP-NeuAc in high yield and purity was developed, using the calf brain CMP-sialic acid synthetase. Each of these derivatives was tested as donor substrates for six mammalian sialyltransferases purified from porcine, rat, and bovine tissues, including a bovine GalNAc alpha 2,6 sialyltransferase whose purification is described in this report. The sialyltransferases examined represent those which form the Sia alpha 2,6Gal beta 1,4-GlcNAc-, Sia alpha 2,3Gal beta 1,3(4)GlcNAc-, Sia alpha 2,3Gal beta 1,3-GalNAc- and Sia alpha 2,6GalNAc- sequences found on N-linked and O-linked oligosaccharides of glycoproteins. CMP-NeuAc and CMP-NeuGc were equally good donor substrates for all six sialyltransferases. However, transfer of 9-O-Ac-NeuAc from CMP-9-O-Ac-NeuAc varied from only 10% to nearly 70% that of the transfer of NeuAc from CMP-NeuAc. Results are viewed to define the relative roles of direct transfer of these sialic acids and modification of glycosidically bound NeuAc in glycoproteins.