The genes coding for the neuraminidase (NA) enzyme in antigenic variants of influenza virus X-7(F1) (which contains the NA of A/RI/5+/57) are shorter than other N2 neuraminidase genes. When the parent X-7(F1) virus was cloned at limiting dilution prior to selection of variants with monoclonal antibodies, a minor component with a shorter neuraminidase gene was cloned out, and this deletion was retained in all the variants. Sequence analysis has shown that there is a single deletion, 54 nucleotides long, which occurs in the coding region of the NA. The 18 deleted amino acids are from the stalk region of the protein, which is a thin structure containing the four polypeptide chains of the tetrameric enzyme which separates the enzymatically and antigenically active "head" from the hydrophobic sequence embedded in the viral membrane. The deletion can be seen as a shortened stalk when rosettes of detergent-released NA are examined by electron microscopy, which confirms that the NA stalk is a highly extended structure. Although the more abundant hemagglutinin (HA) would probably extend beyond the shortened NA molecule on the surface of the virus, the NA head is still accessible to all of the available monoclonal antibodies to the different antigenic sites on the molecule. Enzymatic activity toward a small substrate molecule, N-acetyl neuraminyl lactose, is the same for both the parental X-7(F1) virus and the strain having the deleted NA; however, the latter virus is slower to cleave a large substrate, fetuin, and elutes from red cells at a reduced rate.