The structural requirements for proteolytic cleavage of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 env gene product, gp160, to gp120 and gp41 have been assessed by specific mutagenesis of the sequence Lys Ala Lys Arg Arg Val Val Glu Arg Glu Lys Arg located between amino acids 500 and 511, i.e., at the putative C terminus of gp120. The basic amino acids underlined have been mutated, individually and in combination, to neutral amino acids, and the cleavability of the mutated env gene products was examined after expression in CV-1 cells. The results show that the replacement of Arg-511 (cleavage presumably occurs C terminal to this amino acid) with Ser completely abolishes recognition and cleavage by the cellular protease(s), i.e., the remaining basic amino acids in the vicinity do not serve as alternative substrates. However, Arg-508 and Lys-510 are important features of the recognition site since, when they are individually changed to neutral amino acids, cleavage is severely impaired. The basic amino acids 500, 502, and 504 are, individually, not important for cleavage, since their individual replacement by neutral amino acids does not impair cleavage. However, when all four basic amino acids 500, 502, 503, and 504 are changed to neutral amino acids, cleavage is almost completely abolished. This shows that the sequence Arg Glu Lys Arg at the cleavage site is alone not sufficient for cleavage but that a contribution of other amino acids is required, whether the other amino acids provide a basic character or a certain structure in the vicinity of the cleavage site. When noncleavable or poorly cleavable mutant env genes are expressed from the infectious plasmid pNL4-3 in CD4+ human lymphoblastoid cells, noninfectious virus, incapable of spread throughout the culture, is produced.