Altered glycosylation is a feature of many solid tissue diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, cancer, and connective tissue disorders. Conventionally, oligosaccharide changes have been studied by immunohistochemical techniques. We have adapted existing techniques, developed for purified protein preparations, to allow the release of intact oligosaccharides from archival tissues, so that the oligosaccharides may be structurally characterized. In our study, sections cut from paraffin-wax blocks were dewaxed and oligosaccharides were released using hydrazine and labeled with 2-aminobenzamide. Sialylated oligosaccharides were compared by passing through a GlycoSep C divinylbenzene anion exchange resin column and neutral oligosaccharides were compared by passing through a BioGel P4 column. The oligosaccharide profiles obtained from the same fresh frozen versus archival paraffin-wax-embedded, normal liver, and tumor tissues showed remarkable similarity in terms of their sialylated and neutral structures. Matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry has shown that the oligosaccharides are not affected by fixation in formalin and storage in paraffin wax. The results indicate that while the proteins themselves may be denatured, oligosaccharides are not adversely affected by fixation in formalin and storage in paraffin wax. By applying these methods, oligosaccharides from archival tissues, where the natural history of the disease has been followed, may now be liberated and structurally characterized.