The specific encapsidation of genomic RNA by an alphavirus requires recognition of the viral RNA by the nucleocapsid protein. In an effort to identify individual residues of the Sindbis virus nucleocapsid protein which are essential for this recognition event, a molecular genetic analysis of a domain of the protein previously suggested to be involved in RNA binding in vitro was undertaken. The experiments presented describe the generation of a panel of viruses which contain mutations in residues 97 through 111 of the nucleocapsid protein. All of the viruses generated were viable, and the results suggest that, individually, the residues mutated do not play a critical role in encapsidation. However, one mutant which had lost the ability to specifically encapsidate the genomic RNA was identified. This mutant virus, which contained a deletion of residues 97 to 106, encapsidated both the genomic RNA and the subgenomic mRNA of the virus. It is proposed that the encapsidation of this second species of RNA, which is not present in wild-type virions, is the result of the loss of a domain of the nucleocapsid protein required for specific recognition of the genomic RNA packaging signal. The results suggest that this region of the protein is important in dictating specificity in the encapsidation reaction in vivo. The isolation and preliminary characterization of two independent second-site revertants to this deletion mutant are also described.