MHC class I molecules are a necessary component of the cell surface receptor for simian virus 40 (SV40). After binding to class I molecules, SV40 enters cells via a unique endocytic pathway that involves caveolae, rather than clathrin-coated pits. This pathway is dependent on a transmembrane signal that SV40 transmits from the cell surface. Furthermore, it delivers SV40 to the endoplasmic reticulum, rather than to the endosomal/lysosomal compartment, which is the usual target for endocytic traffic. The glycosphingolipid and cholesterol-enriched plasma membrane domains that contain caveolae are also enriched for class I molecules, relative to whole plasma membrane. Nevertheless, although class I molecules bind SV40, they do not enter with SV40, nor do they enter spontaneously into uninfected SV40 host cells. Instead, they are shed from the cell surface by the activity of a metalloprotease. These results imply the existence of a putative secondary receptor for SV40 that might mediate SV40 entry. It is not yet clear whether class I molecules are active in transmitting the SV40 signal. Monoclonal antibodies against class I molecules also induce a signal in the SV40 host cells. However, the antibody-induced signal is mediated by mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAP kinase), whereas the SV40 signal is independent of MAP kinase.