Various biologic effects induced by free external gangliosides, including cell-signaling events, have been described in several cell systems. We show in this report that free monosialoganglioside GM1, following its rapid and saturable binding to the cell membrane of human Jurkat T cells, triggers in a few seconds a sustained elevation of the intracellular free calcium concentration. It also induces in parallel the early tyrosine phosphorylation of numerous proteins, including phospholipase C gamma-1. Parallel experiments performed with asialo-GM1 or the ceramide part of the molecule do not reproduce these effects, demonstrating the prominent role played by the sialylated part of the ganglioside. A marked conversion of the T cell-specific tyrosine kinase p56lck to a slow migrating 60-kDa form is also found following GM1 addition. It is accompanied in the same time by an increased kinase activity in p56lck immunoprecipitates. Finally, the marked calcium response and tyrosine phosphorylations triggered by GM1 cannot be observed in a p56lck-negative T cell variant. Together these results demonstrate that the monosialoganglioside GM1 can behave as an authentic activation molecule on human T lymphocytes, likely through a p56lck tyrosine kinase-dependent pathway.