Glycophorin, a major integral membrane glycoprotein of the human erythrocyte, has been spin labelled on oligosaccharide chains. Electron paramagnetic resonance studies of this glycoprotein in systems of controlled complexity have provided a degree of insight into its headgroup behaviour. (i) When glycophorin is free in solution its oligosaccharide chains exhibit uniformly high freedom of motion. This motional freedom is not attributable to the presence of N-acetyl-neuraminic acid residues. (ii) No evidence has been found of a finite tendency for headgroup sugars to associate with hydrophobic regions of phospholipid or glycoprotein. (iii) Headgroup oligosaccharide dynamics are essentially independent of the state of and interactions of the polypeptide hydrophobic portion (that portion which traverses the membrane). (iv) Nonspecific interaction with proteins and polysaccharides can readily reduce oligosaccharide chain mobility by some 25%, but does not alter their basic behaviour. (v) Binding of wheat germ agglutinin, dramatically immobilizes (terminal) N-acetylneuraminic acid residues. (vi) The above observations hold over the temperature range 0-40 degrees C. (vii) Headgroup carbohydrate mobility is at a minimum in the region of headgroup neutrality (pH 2.6-3.5) and is pH invariant over several pH units in the physiological range.