Several properties of the exchangeable amide protons of the ganglioside GM2 were studied in detail by 1H-NMR spectroscopy in fully deuterated dimethylsulfoxide [2H6]DMSO/2% H2O, and compared with data obtained for the simpler constituent glycosphingolipids GA2 and GM3. In addition to chemical shifts, 3J2,HN coupling constants, and temperature shift coefficients, the kinetics of NH/2H chemical exchange were examined by following the disappearance of the amide resonances in [2H6]DMSO/2% 2H2O. The results included observation of an increase in half-life of the N-acetylgalactosamine acetamido HN by more than an order of magnitude in GM2 compared to GA2, attributable to the presence of the additional N-acetylneuraminic acid residue. Additional one-dimensional dipolar cross relaxation experiments were also performed on nonexchangeable protons of GM2. The results of all of these experiments support a three-dimensional model for the terminal trisaccharide in which a hydrogen bond is formed between the N-acetylgalactosamine acetamido NH and the N-acetylneuraminic acid carboxyl group. The interaction is proposed to be of the pi-acceptor type, a possibility which has not yet been explored in the literature on carbohydrates. The proposed model is discussed in comparison with that of Sabesan et al. (1984, Can J Chem 62:1034-45), and the models of GM1 proposed more recently by Acquotti et al. (1990, J Am Chem Soc 112:7772-8) and Scarsdale et al. (1990, Biochemistry 29:9843-55).