Monoclonal antibody Mab D1.1 recognizes on human melanoma cells a ganglioside antigen characterized by an alkali-labile O-acetylated sialic acid residue. Immunochemical analysis showed that this molecule is an O-acetylated product of the neuroectoderm-associated disialoganglioside GD3. Controlled chemical O-acetylation of purified GD3 resulted in the generation of this same epitope. Lysates of human melanoma cells were found to contain O-acetyltransferase activity capable of generating the antigenic epitope recognized by Mab D1.1. Thus, the addition of a single O-acetyl group to a common cell surface-associated ganglioside can create a potentially tumor-specific antigen.