Glycosylation is generally altered in tumour cells in comparison with their normal counterparts. These alterations are thought to be important because they contribute to the abnormal behaviour of cancer cells. Therefore, we have comparatively analysed the glycoproteins in cell extracts from human melanoma (primary site – WM35; metastatic sites – WM239, WM9 and A375) cell lines using sodium dodecyl sulphate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and lectin staining. The glycoprotein pattern of the WM35 line differed from that of the other cell lines in having less proteins that reacted with Sambucus nigra, Maackia amurensis and Phaseolus vulgaris agglutinins. A glycoprotein of about 70 kDa had a significantly increased reaction with Sambucus nigra agglutinin in all the cell lines from metastatic sites. In the WM9, WM239 and A375 cell lines, additional bands (160–100 kDa) were stained with Phaseolus vulgaris agglutinin, suggesting that cells from metastatic sites contain more glycoproteins with β1–6 branches. On the other hand, only minor changes in the reaction with Galanthus nivalis agglutinin, a mannose-specific lectin, were detected. Among the proteins showing different lectin staining, one, with an apparent molecular weight of 133 kDa, was recognized by antibodies as N-cadherin. The present results suggest that in human melanoma the expression of branched and sialylated complex type N-oligosaccharides consistently increased in cells from metastatic sites, and support the view that carbohydrates are associated with the acquisition of the metastatic potential of tumour cells.