Ganglioside GD2 is abundant on human neuroblastoma (NB). Monoclonal antibody 3F8 targeted to GD2 may have imaging and therapeutic potential. Antigen-negative clones can escape immune-mediated attack, leading to clinical resistance or recurrence. Among 95 evaluable patients treated i.v. with 3F8 (94 stage 4 and 1 stage 3), 66 received nonradiolabeled 3F8, 11 received 131I-labeled 3F8 (8-28 mCi/kg) with autologous bone marrow rescue, and 18 received both forms of treatment. Prior to treatment, 91 patients tested positive for GD2 reactivity by bone marrow immunofluorescence (n = 68), tumor immunohistochemistry (n = 20), or diagnostic radioimmunoscintigraphy only (n = 3). Of 62 patients who had refractory or recurrent NB following 3F8 treatment, 61 (98%) tested positive for GD2 reactivity by bone marrow immunofluorescence (n = 51) or tumor immunohistochemistry (n = 10). The sole tumor that lost GD2 expression underwent phenotypic transformation into a pheochromocytoma-like tumor. The persistence of GD2 expression in refractory or recurrent NB suggests that complete antigen loss is an uncommon event and cannot account for treatment failure.