The spread of most strains of vaccinia virus in cell monolayers occurs predominantly via extracellular enveloped virions that adhere to the tips of actin-containing microvilli and to a lesser extent via diffusion of released virions. The mechanism by which virions adhere to the cell surface is unknown, although several viral proteins may be involved. The present investigation was initiated with the following premise: spontaneous mutations that increase virus release will be naturally selected by propagating a virus unable to spread by means of actin tails. Starting with an A36R deletion mutant that forms small, round plaques, five independent virus clones with enhanced spread due to the formation of comet or satellite plaques were isolated. The viral membrane glycoprotein genes of the isolates were sequenced; four had mutations causing C-terminal truncations of the A33R protein, and one had a serine replacing proline 189 of the B5R protein. The comet-forming phenotype was specifically reproduced or reversed by homologous recombination using DNA containing the mutated or natural sequence, respectively. Considerably more extracellular enveloped virus was released into the medium by the second-site mutants than by the parental A36R deletion mutant, explaining their selection in tissue culture as well as their comet-forming phenotype. The data suggest that the B5R protein and the C-terminal region of the A33R protein are involved in adherence of cell-associated enveloped virions to cells. In spite of their selective advantage in cultured cells, the second-site mutants were not detectably more virulent than the A36R deletion mutant when administered to mice by the intranasal route.