The determinants of cleavage site specificity of the yellow fever virus (YF) NS3 proteinase for its 2B/3 cleavage site have been studied by using site-directed mutagenesis. Mutations at residues within the GARR decreases S sequence were tested for effects on cis cleavage of an NS2B-3(181) polyprotein during cell-free translation. At the P1 position, only the conservative substitution R-->K exhibited significant levels of cleavage. Conservative and nonconservative substitutions were tolerated at the P1' and P2 positions, resulting in intermediate levels of cleavage. Substitutions at the P3 and P4 positions had no effects on cleavage efficiency in the cell-free assay. Processing at other dibasic sites was studied by using transient expression of a sig2A-5(356) polyprotein. Cleavage at the 2B/3 site was not required for processing at downstream sites. However, increased accumulation of high-molecular-weight viral polyproteins was generally observed for mutations which reduced cleavage efficiency at the 2B/3 site. Several mutations were also tested for their effects on viral replication. Virus was not recovered from substitutions which blocked or substantially reduced cleavage in the cell-free assay, suggesting that efficient cleavage at the 2B/3 site is required for flavivirus replication.