A panel of 26 temperature-sensitive mutants of MHV-A59 were selected by mutagenesis with either 5-fluorouracil or 5-azacytidine. Complementation analysis revealed the presence of one RNA+ and five RNA- complementation groups. None of the RNA- complementation groups transcribed detectable levels of positive- or negative-stranded RNA at the restrictive temperature. Temperature shift experiments after the onset of mRNA synthesis revealed at least two classes of RNA- mutants. RNA- complementation groups A, B, D, and E were blocked in the ability to release infectious virus and transcribe mRNA and genome, while group C mutants continued to release infectious virus and transcribe both mRNA and genome. Temperature shift experiments at different times postinfection suggest that the group C mutants encode a function required early in viral transcription which affects the overall rate of positive strand synthesis. Analysis of steady state levels of negative strand RNA after the shift indicate that the group C mutants were probably blocked in the ability to synthesize additional minus strand RNA under conditions in which the group E mutants continued low levels of minus strand synthesis. These data suggest that at least four cistrons may be required for positive strand synthesis while the group C cistron functions during minus strand synthesis.