Individual ganglioside species (possessing the gangliotetrose oligosaccharide) were purified from bovine brain gray matter and applied in varying concentrations to the culture medium of mouse neuroblastoma cells (N2A) in vitro. After 48 hr of incubation, the cells were stained, and the neuritogenic response quantitated with a video analysis system, employing a program to measure three parameters of neuroblastoma differentiation: neurites per cell (sprouting), neurite length (extension), and degree of neurite branching (arborization). All the individual gangliosides tested promoted neurite extension in a dose-dependent fashion. Asialogangliosides ("neutral" glycosphingolipids) were without effect, which suggests that sialic acid (N-acetylneuraminic acid) is necessary to elicit this cellular response. With increasing concentrations of GM1 (5 to 500 micrograms/ml), the average cellular neurite length increased significantly, whereas the number of neurites per cell decreased. With the trisialoganglioside GT1b, neurite length did not increase to the extent seen with GM1, but an increase in the number of neurites per cell (sprouting) and branch points per neurite (arborization) was observed. These results suggest that the in vitro neuronal response to exogenous gangliosides may combine specific responses to individual species making up the total.