We have previously reported that ganglioside GM3 was remarkably increased during monocytoid differentiation of human myelogenous leukemia cell line HL-60 cells and that neolacto series gangliosides (NeuAc-nLc) were enriched during granulocytoid differentiation. In addition, HL-60 was differentiated into monocytic lineage by exogenous GM3 and into granulocytoid by NeuAc-nLc. In the present report, the enzymatic bases of glycosphingolipid biosynthesis in HL-60 during differentiation induced by 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate and all-trans-retinoic acid were investigated. The following results were of particular interest. (i) Lactosylceramide alpha 2-->3 sialyltransferase (GM3 synthase) was remarkably up-regulated during monocyte differentiation, while the GM3 synthase level did not change in granulocytic differentiation. (ii) By contrast, lactosylceramide beta 1-->3N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase (Lc3Cer synthase) was down-regulated during monocytic differentiation, while the activity of Lc3Cer synthase was found to increase in granulocytic differentiation. (iii) The activities of four downstream glycosyltransferases (for synthesis of NeuAc-nLc) were found to increase or to remain unchanged during monocytic and granulocytic differentiation. These results strongly suggested the following. The dramatic GM3 increase and the decrease of NeuAc-nLc during monocytic differentiation are the consequences of the up-regulation of GM3 synthase and the down-regulation of Lc3Cer synthase, although the downstream enzymes are ready to catalyze their enzyme reactions. The notable increase of NeuAc-nLc and the relative decrease of GM3 during granulocytic differentiation are the results of the unchanged level of GM3 synthase and the up-regulation of Lc3Cer synthase together with the activation of the downstream glycosyltransferases. These results suggest that these two key upstream glycosyltransferases, GM3 synthase and Lc3Cer synthase, play critical roles in regulating the glycosphingolipid biosynthesis in HL-60 cells during differentiation. This switching mechanism of these two glycosyltransferases, together with our previous findings, might be one of the most important parts of the determining system of differentiation direction in human myeloid cells into monocytic or granulocytic lineages.