Glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) structures are attached to many cell surface glycoproteins in lower and higher eukaryotes. GPI structures are particularly abundant in trypanosomatid parasites where they can be found attached to complex phosphosaccharides, as well as to glycoproteins, and as mature surface glycolipids. The high density of GPI structures at all life-cycle stages of African trypanosomes and Leishmania suggests that the GPI biosynthetic pathway might be a reasonable target for the development of anti-parasite drugs. In this paper we show that synthetic analogues of early GPI intermediates having the 2-hydroxyl group of the D-myo-inositol residue methylated are recognized and mannosylated by the GPI biosynthetic pathways of Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania major but not by that of human (HeLa) cells. These findings suggest that the discovery and development of specific inhibitors of parasite GPI biosynthesis are attainable goals. Moreover, they demonstrate that inositol acylation is required for mannosylation in the HeLa cell GPI biosynthetic pathway, whereas it is required far ethanolamine phosphate addition in the T. brucei GPI biosynthetic pathway.