We previously described the pattern of sequence variation in gp120 following persistent infection of rhesus monkeys with the pathogenic simian immunodeficiency virus SIVmac239 molecular clone (D.P.W. Burns and R.C. Desrosiers, J. Virol. 65:1843, 1991). Sequence changes were confined largely to five variable regions (V1 to V5), four of which correspond to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) gp120 variable regions. Remarkably, 182 of 186 nucleotide substitutions that were documented in these variable regions resulted in amino acid changes. This is an extremely nonrandom pattern, which suggests selective pressure driving amino acid changes in discrete variable domains. In the present study, we investigated whether neutralizing-antibody responses are one selective force responsible at least in part for the observed pattern of sequence variation. Variant env sequences called 1-12 and 8-22 obtained 69 and 93 weeks after infection of a rhesus monkey with cloned SIVmac239 were recombined into the parental SIVmac239 genome, and variant viruses were generated by transfection of cultured cells with cloned DNA. The 1-12 and 8-22 recombinants differ from the parental SIVmac239 at 18 amino acid positions in gp120 and at 5 and 10 amino acid positions, respectively, in gp41. Sequential sera from the monkey infected with cloned SIVmac239 from which the 1-12 and 8-22 variants were isolated showed much higher neutralizing antibody titers to cloned SIVmac239 than to the cloned 1-12 and 8-22 variants. For example, at 55 weeks postinfection the neutralizing antibody titer against SIVmac239 was 640 while those to the variant viruses were 40 and less than 20. Two other rhesus monkeys infected with cloned SIVmac239 showed a similar pattern. Rhesus monkeys were also experimentally infected with the cloned variants so that the type-specific nature of the neutralizing antibody responses could be verified. Indeed, each of these monkeys showed neutralizing-antibody responses of much higher titer to the homologous variant used for infection. These experiments unambiguously demonstrate that SIV mutants resistant to serum neutralization arise during the course of persistent infection of rhesus monkeys.