Cell surface expression of stage specific embryonic antigen 1 (SSEA-1), or Lex (III3 FucnLC4), was induced in differentiated human teratocarcinoma cells and in human diploid fibroblasts 3-6 d after infection with human cytomegalovirus (HCMV). In parallel, fucosylated lactoseries glycolipids bearing the SSEA-1/Lex epitope were readily detected in the infected cells but not in the uninfected cells. HCMV infection also results in altered expression of several glycosyltransferases. SSEA-1/Lex induction is probably a consequence of both increased expression of beta 1----3N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase, which catalyzes the rate-limiting step in lactoseries core chain synthesis, and subtle alterations in the relative competition for common precursor structures at key points in the biosynthetic pathway. Since SSEA-1 has been suggested to play a role in some morphogenetic cell-cell interactions during embryonic development, the induction of this antigen at inappropriate times might provide one mechanism whereby intrauterine infection with HCMV can damage the developing fetal nervous system.