We have obtained a polyclonal antiserum, N-BE, against the denatured, amino-terminal half of the measles virus (MV) nucleocapsid (N) protein and a monoclonal antibody (MAb), N46, which recognizes a conformation-dependent epitope in the same region. Amino acid residues 23 to 239 were required and sufficient for the formation of the conformational epitope. Using these antibodies, we show that the N protein of MV is synthesized as a relatively unfolded protein which first appears in the free-protein pool. This nascent N protein undergoes a conformational change into a more folded mature form. This change does not require the participation of other viral proteins or genomic RNA. The mature N protein does not accumulate in the free-protein pool but is quickly and selectively incorporated into the viral nucleocapsids. The mature N protein is a target for interaction with the phosphoprotein (P protein) of MV. This interaction interferes with the recognition of the N protein by the N46 MAb. This suggests that the association with the P protein may mask the binding site for the N46 MAb or that it induces a conformational change in the N protein.