In order to better understand the role of cell surface glycolipids in T lymphocyte activation, heparin was used to simultaneously modulate the expression of glycolipids and the lytic capacity of lymphocytes activated by interleukin-2. Results presented here show that heparin added at the start of a 3 day culture inhibited the formation of lymphokine activated killer cells by up to 50%. Heparin also has a profound effect on the synthesis of glycolipids during this three day period. Asialo GM1, a useful cell surface marker for subsets of murine cytotoxic cells, is reduced in amount, as are the other two major neutral glycolipids lactosylceramide and asialo GM2. In addition, the synthesis of some gangliosides is affected by heparin treatment. Comparison of the glycosyltransferase activities of untreated and heparin-treated cells shows that the activities of a 2-3-sialyltransferase and a beta 1-3 galactosyltransferase are inhibited dramatically, while a third enzyme, N-acetyl-galactosaminyltransferase is unaffected. The two heparin inhibitable enzymes bind to heparin affinity columns but the galactosaminyltransferase does not. These studies suggest that the proper regulation of the activities of specific glycosyltransferases may be important events in lymphocyte activation.