Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a fatal demyelinating disease caused by JC virus (JCV) infection of oligodendrocytes, may develop in patients with immune disorders following reactivation of chronic benign infection. Mutations of JCV capsid viral protein 1 (VP1), the capsid protein involved in binding to sialic acid cell receptors, might favor PML onset. Cerebrospinal fluid sequences from 37/40 PML patients contained one of several JCV VP1 amino acid mutations, which were also present in paired plasma but not urine sequences despite the same viral genetic background. VP1-derived virus-like particles (VLPs) carrying these mutations lost hemagglutination ability, showed different ganglioside specificity, and abolished binding to different peripheral cell types compared with wild-type VLPs. However, mutants still bound brain-derived cells, and binding was not affected by sialic acid removal by neuraminidase. JCV VP1 substitutions are acquired intrapatient and might favor JCV brain invasion through abrogation of sialic acid binding with peripheral cells, while maintaining sialic acid-independent binding with brain cells.