Many eukaryotic surface glycoproteins, including the variant surface glycoproteins (VSGs) of Trypanosoma brucei, are synthesized with a carboxyl-terminal hydrophobic peptide extension that is cleaved and replaced by a complex glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) membrane anchor within 1-5 min of the completion of polypeptide synthesis. We have reported the purification and partial characterization of candidate precursor glycolipids (P2 and P3) from T. brucei. P2 and P3 contain ethanolamine- phosphate-Man/alpha1-2Man/alpha1-6Man/alpha1-GlcN linked glycosidically to an inositol residue, as do all the GPI anchors that have been structurally characterized. The anchors on mature VSGs contain a heterogenously branched galactose structure attached alpha1-3 to the mannose residue adjacent to the glucosamine. We report the identification of free GPIs that appear to be similarly galactosylated. These glycolipids contain diacylglycerol and alpha-galactosidase-sensitive glycan structures which are indistinguishable from the glycans derived from galactosylated VSG GPI anchors. We discuss the relevance of these galactosylated GPIs to the biosynthesis of VSG CPI anchors.