A variety of glycoconjugates, including glycosphingolipids (GSLs), expressed in mammalian tissues and cells were isolated and characterized in early biochemical studies. Later studies of virus-transformed fibroblasts demonstrated the association of GSL expression profiles with cell phenotypes. Changes of GSL expression profile were observed during mammalian embryogenesis. Cell surface molecules expressed on embryos in a stage-specific manner appeared to play key roles in regulation of cell-cell interaction and cell sorting during early development. Many mAbs showing stage-specific reactivity with mouse embryos were shown to recognize carbohydrate epitopes. Among various stage-specific embryonic antigens (SSEAs), SSEA-1 was found to react with neolacto-series GSL Lex, while SSEA-3 and SSEA-4 reacted with globo-series Gb5 and monosialyl-Gb5, respectively. GSL expression during mouse early development was shown to shift rapidly from globo-series to neolacto/lacto-series, and then to ganglio-series. We found that multivalent Lex caused decompaction of mouse embryos, indicating a functional role of Lex epitope in the compaction process. Autoaggregation of mouse embryonal carcinoma (EC) F9 cells provided a useful model of the compaction process. We showed that Lex-Lex interaction, a novel type of molecular interavction termed carbohydrate-carbohydrate interaction (CCI), was involved in cell aggregation. Similar shifting of GSL expression profiles from globo-series and neolacto/lacto-series to ganglio-series was observed during differentiation of human EC cells and embryonic stem (ES) cells, reflecting the essential role of cell surface glycoconjugates in early development.