The Sarawak strain of Japanese encephalitis virus (JE-Sar) is virulent in 3-week-old mice when inoculated intraperitoneally. The nucleotide sequence for the envelope glycoprotein (E) of this virus was determined and compared with the published sequences of four other strains. There were several silent nucleotide differences and five codon changes. Monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) against the E protein of JE-Sar virus were prepared and characterized. MAb-resistant mutants of JE-Sar were selected to determine if mutations in the E protein gene could affect its virulence for mice. Eight mutants were isolated using five different MAbs that identified virus-specific or group-reactive epitopes on the E protein. The mutants lost either complete or partial reactivity with selecting MAb. Several showed decreased virulence in 3-week-old mice after intraperitoneal inoculation. Two (r27 and r30) also showed reduced virulence in 2-week-old mice. JE-Sar and the derived mutants were comparable in their virulence for mice, when inoculated intracranially. Mutant r30 but not r27 induced protective immunity in adult mice against intracranial challenge with parent virus. However, r27-2 did induce protective immunity against itself. Nucleotide sequencing of the E coding region for the mutants revealed single base changes in both r30 and r27 resulting in a predicted change from isoleucine to serine at position 270 in r30 and from glycine to aspartic acid at position 333 in r27. The altered capacity of the mutants to induce protective immunity is consistent with the immunogenicity changes predicted by computer analysis using the Protean II program.