We screened a variety of lectins with different sugar specificates to determine whether subpopulations of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons in the chick can be distinguished by the carbohydrates they express. Of the 15 lectins tested only those that recognize N-acetylgalactosamine (galNac) residues labeled a subset of DRG neurons. For example, Dolichos biflorus (DBA) labeled a population of small-diameter neurons in the dorsomedial DRG and their terminals in the dorsal horn in hatchling chicks. Staining of live neurons in vitro demonstrated that DBA was binding to the cell surface. Labeling first appeared in sensory neurons at about St.38 (E12) and in dorsal horn laminae 1 and 2 at about St.42 (E16). Fainter labeling appeared somewhat later in lamina 3, after hatching. Labeling of the tissue sections was eliminated by chloroform: methanol extraction and reduced by alpha-N- acetylgalactosaminidase digestion, but survived trypsinization. Together these results suggest that a subset of DRG neurons in the chick can be identified by the presence of a cell surface glycoconjugate, perhaps a glycolipid, containing terminal alpha-linked galNac residues.