We have recently discovered that de-N-acetyl GM3 [NeuNH(2)LacCer, d-GM3], a derivative of ganglioside GM3, is specifically expressed in metastatic tumor cells and that its expression correlates with an enhanced metastatic phenotype. Although the classic N-acetylated form of GM3 (NeuAcLacCer, c-GM3) is found in both normal and tumor cells, metastatic tumor cells (but not other cells) predominantly express d-GM3 (82-95% of total GM3). d-GM3 expression is mainly found in metastatic melanomas, but not in benign nevi or the majority of primary melanomas. Using metastatic (d-GM3-positive) and poorly invasive (d-GM3-negative) human melanoma cell lines, we found that d-GM3 stimulates cell migration and invasion by increasing the expression and activation of urokinase-like plasminogen activator (uPA). Further studies showed that d-GM3 activates matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2), but not MMP-9, when uPA receptor signaling is activated. These results implicate d-GM3 as a specific marker for metastatic melanoma and a novel therapeutic target for neoplastic diseases.