The coronavirus nucleocapsid (N) protein is a viral RNA-binding protein with multiple functions in terms of virus replication and modulating cell signalling pathways. N protein is composed of three distinct regions containing RNA-binding motif(s), and appropriate signals for modulating cell signalling. The subcellular localization of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) N protein was studied. In infected cells, SARS-CoV N protein localized exclusively to the cytoplasm. In contrast to the avian coronavirus N protein, overexpressed SARS-CoV N protein remained principally localized to the cytoplasm, with very few cells exhibiting nucleolar localization. Bioinformatic analysis and deletion mutagenesis coupled to confocal microscopy and live-cell imaging, revealed that SARS-CoV N protein regions I and III contained nuclear localization signals and region II contained a nucleolar retention signal. However, cytoplasmic localization was directed by region III and was the dominant localization signal in the protein.