The oligosaccharide processing and secretion of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) was studied in Chinese hamster ovary cells stably transfected with the gene coding HBsAg. HBsAg was secreted from cells with a relatively long half time (ca. 5 h). This appeared to be a characteristic of HBsAg itself, since HBsAg-producing cells infected with vesicular stomatitis virus transported the viral envelope glycoprotein to the cell surface with normal kinetics (half time of ca. 30 min). The secreted HBsAg was comprised of both the unglycosylated (P20) and the glycosylated (G25) polypeptides, characteristic of HBsAg isolated from human serum or secreted from other cell lines (C. W. Crowley, C.-C. Liu, and A. D. Levinson, Mol. Cell. Biol. 3:44-55, 1983; M. F. Dubois, C. Pourcel, S. Rousset, C. Chang, and P. Tiollais, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 77:4549-4553, 1980; C.-C. Liu, D. Yansura, and A. D. Levinson, DNA, 1:213-221, 1982; G. M. Macnab, J. J. Alexander, G. Lecatsas, E. M. Bey, and J. M. Urbanocvicz, Br. J. Cancer, 24:509-515, 1976; A. M. Moriarity, B. H. Hoyer, J. W.-K. Shih, J. L. Gerin, and D. H. Hamer, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 78:2606-2610, 1981; D. L. Peterson, J. Biol. Chem., 256:6975-6983, 1981). The glycosylated polypeptide (GP25) contained complex oligosaccharide chains. Cell-associated HBsAg also was comprised of both an unglycosylated and a glycosylated polypeptide; however, the glycosylated form (GP23) contained only high-mannose oligosaccharide chains. No oligosaccharide processing of the high-mannose chains could be detected within the cells. Thus, most of the time before secretion of HBsAg from cells must have been spent in a pre-Golgi or early Golgi compartment. Glycosylation was inhibited completely by tunicamycin, although unglycosylated particles were still secreted from cells and were antigenic. The secretion and oligosaccharide processing of HBsAg were inhibited with high concentrations of monensin, but at lower concentrations of monensin HBsAg was still secreted, although only half of the oligosaccharide chains were processed to the complex form.