The structures involved in the recognition of melanoma cells by nonspecific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) activated in mixed lymphocyte culture were investigated with monoclonal antibodies (MAb) which blocked this anomalous killer (AK) function. Of over 2000 MAb raised against melanoma cells, only three inhibited killing; one of these, an IgMk termed Leo Me13, was investigated in detail. In antibody-binding studies using a large range of cultured tumor cells, it was shown that Leo Me13 was relatively specific for melanoma cells. Of more importance, Leo Me13 inhibited conjugate formation between AK cells and melanoma target cells by 60 to 80% and caused an eight- to 10-fold reduction in killing. The MAb did not immunoprecipitate protein from melanoma cells surface-labeled with 125I, and thin-layer chromatography followed by immunoblotting of the separated glycolipids from melanoma cells indicated that the epitope was on acidic glycolipids migrating between GM1 and GD1a; moreover, treatment of melanoma cells with neuraminidase resulted in complete loss of binding of Leo Me13 but not of other anti-melanoma antibodies which did not inhibit AK cell-mediated lysis. Other melanoma-reactive MAb of the same isotype as Leo Me13 did not block killing of melanoma cells, but one documented antibody, R24, an IgG3 with specificity for the ganglioside GD3, was found to inhibit this function. These data suggest that the AK cells recognize and bind to melanoma cells by a secondary "lectin-type" receptor for a carbohydrate moiety.