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Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the major cause of transfusion-acquired non-A, non-B hepatitis. HCV is an enveloped positive-sense RNA virus which has been classified as a new genus in the flavivirus family. Like the other two genera in this family, the flaviviruses and the pestiviruses, HCV polypeptides appear to be produced by translation of a long open reading frame and subsequent proteolytic processing of this polyprotein. In this study, a cDNA clone encompassing the long open reading frame of the HCV H strain (3,011 amino acid residues) has been assembled and sequenced. This clone and various truncated derivatives were used in vaccinia virus transient-expression assays to map HCV-encoded polypeptides and to study HCV polyprotein processing. HCV polyproteins and cleavage products were identified by using convalescent human sera and a panel of region-specific polyclonal rabbit antisera. Similar results were obtained for several mammalian cell lines examined, including the human HepG2 hepatoma line. The data indicate that at least nine polypeptides are produced by cleavage of the HCV H strain polyprotein. Putative structural proteins, located in the N-terminal one-fourth of the polyprotein, include the capsid protein C (21 kDa) followed by two possible virion envelope proteins, E1 (31 kDa) and E2 (70 kDa), which are heavily modified by N-linked glycosylation. The remainder of the polyprotein probably encodes nonstructural proteins including NS2 (23 kDa), NS3 (70 kDa), NS4A (8 kDa), NS4B (27 kDa), NS5A (58 kDa), and NS5B (68 kDa). An 82- to 88-kDa glycoprotein which reacted with both E2 and NS2-specific HCV antisera was also identified (called E2-NS2). Preliminary results suggest that a fraction of E1 is associated with E2 and E2-NS2 via disulfide linkages.