Trypanosoma brucei variant surface glycoproteins are apparently synthesized with a hydrophobic carboxyl-terminal peptide that is cleaved and replaced by a complex glycosylphosphatidylinositol membrane anchor within 1 min of the completion of polypeptide synthesis. The rapidity of this carboxyl-terminal modification suggests the existence of a prefabricated core glycolipid that would be transferred en bloc to the variant surface glycoprotein polypeptide. We report the purification and chemical characterization of a glycolipid from T. brucei that has properties consistent with a role as a variant surface glycoprotein glycolipid donor. This candidate glycolipid precursor has been defined by thin-layer chromatography of extracts of trypanosomes metabolically labeled with radioactive myristic acid, ethanolamine, glucosamine, mannose, and phosphate and by enzymatic, chemical, and gas chromatographic-mass spectrometric analysis. Mild alkali released 100% of the myristic acid, and reaction with phospholipase A2 released 50%. Nitrous acid deamination generated dimyristylphosphatidylinositol, and periodate oxidation released phosphatidic acid. Treatment of purified glycolipid with phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C released dimyristylglycerol and a water-soluble glycan that was sized on Bio-Gel P-4 columns. The candidate precursor contained mannose, myristic acid, phosphate, and ethanolamine with an unsubstituted amino group, but not galactose.