Abstract Stable and heritable variants of Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells which are resistant to different levels (0.1, 1.0 and 10 μg/ml) of the toxin abrin have been isolated and characterized. The frequency of resistant colonies to abrin was increased with the concentration of a chemical mutagen. There was no effect of cell density or cross-feeding on the recovery of variants. In experiments using fluorescein-labeled abrin and ricin which bind to terminal (non-sialylated) galactose residues of cell-surface oligosaccharides, parental cells exhibited strong binding toward both toxins, whereas no fluorescence was observed in the resistant clones. A fluorescein-conjugated lectin, BS II, which is specific for terminal N-acetyl- d-glucosaminyl residues, did not interact with the parental cells, but did with the resistant clones. This suggests that on the surface of resistant cells the number of terminal galactosyl residues of oligosaccharide chains in glycoproteins was reduced, exposing the penultimate N-acetyl- d-glucosaminyl residues. The number of available endogenous acceptor sites for galactosyl transferase in the abrin-resistant clones was directly proportional to the degree of resistance. In the presence of great excess of exogenous acceptor, the rates of galactosyl transfer were similar in all the abrin-resistant cell types tested, with levels ranging from 1.4 to 1.7 times parental cell values. Studies with tetraploid cell hybrids reveal that resistance was a recessive trait. Fluctuation analysis showed that abrin resistance occurred in CHO cell populations at a rate of 4−7 × 10 −8/cell/generation. The system may serve as a new marker for quantitative mutagenesis studies.