BACKGROUND: Glycosphingolipids (GSL) are integral components of mammalian cell membranes that are involved in cell adhesion and cell signaling processes. GSL are subdivided into structural series, like ganglio-, lacto/neolacto-, globo- and isoglo-series, which are defined by distinct trisaccharide cores. The beta1,3 N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase-V (B3gnt5) enzyme catalyzes the formation of the Lc3 structure, which is the core of lactoseries derived GSL. RESULTS: The biological significance of the glycoconjugates produced by the B3gnt5 enzyme was investigated by inactivating the B3gnt5 gene in the mouse germline. The disruption of the B3gnt5 protein-coding region in mouse embryonic stem cells resulted in reduced Lc3-synthase activity, supporting its specific contribution to lactoseries derived GSL synthesis. Breeding of heterozygous mutant mice failed to produce any viable progeny homozygous for the B3gnt5-null allele. The genotypic examination of embryos from heterozygous crosses showed that the disruption of the B3gnt5 gene leads to pre-implantation lethality. This finding was compatible with the expression pattern of the B3gnt5 gene in the pre-implantation embryo as shown by in situ hybridization. The analysis of GSL profiles in embryonic stem cells heterozygous for the B3gnt5-null allele confirmed the reduced levels of lactoseries derived GSL levels and of other GSL species. CONCLUSION: The disruption of the B3gnt5 gene in mice affected the expression of lactoseries derived GLS and possibly of protein-bound beta3GlcNAc-linked glycans, thereby demonstrating an essential contribution of these glycoconjugates in early embryonic development, and supporting the importance of these glycoconjugates in cell differentiation and adhesion processes.