Neutralization escape variants of Murray Valley encephalitis virus were selected using a type-specific, neutralizing, and passively protective anti-envelope protein (E) monoclonal antibody (4B6C-2) which defines epitope E-1c. Nucleotide sequence analysis revealed single nucleotide changes in the E genes of 15 variants resulting in nonconservative amino acid substitutions in all cases. One variant had a three-nucleotide deletion in the E gene which resulted in loss of serine at residue 277. Changes were clustered into two separate regions of the E polypeptide (residues 126-128 and 274-277), indicating that E-1c is a discontinuous epitope. One variant (BHv1), altered at residue 277 (Ser-->Ile), failed to hemagglutinate across the pH range 5.5-7.5, in contrast to parental virus and the other escape variants which hemagglutinated at an optimal pH of 6.6. BHv1 was also of reduced neuroinvasiveness in 21-day-old mice following intraperitoneal inoculation compared to the other viruses. Parental virus and the neutralization escape variants grew equally well in both vertebrate and invertebrate cell cultures, indicating that the reduced neuroinvasiveness of BHv1 was not due to a major abnormality of replication.