The adenovirus E1A region encodes three overlapping mRNAs, designated 9S, 12S and 13S. They differ from each other with regard to the length of the intron which is removed by RNA splicing. We have constructed E1A genes with deletions and insertions in the intervening sequence that is common to all three E1A mRNAs, in a search for signals which influence splicing of the 13S mRNA. Mutant plasmids were transfected into HeLa cells and the transiently expressed E1A mRNAs characterized by the S1 protection assay. The results show that five upstream and 20 downstream nucleotides are sufficient to allow for a correct utilization of the 5'-splice junction for the E1A 13S mRNA. Moreover, we show that a minimal intron length of 78 nucleotides is required for efficient 13S mRNA splicing. The ability of mutants with large intron deletions to maturate a 13S mRNA could partially be restored by expanding the intron length with phage lambda sequences. However, in no case was the normal splicing efficiency obtained with these mutants. In contrast, one mutant in which sequences from the authentic 13S mRNA intron were used to expand the intron expressed almost normal levels of 13S mRNA, thus suggesting that signals which specifically promote 13S mRNA splicing exist.