Chimeras between human (HM-175) and simian (AGM-27) strains of hepatitis A virus (HAV) were constructed to evaluate the effect of the 2C gene of AGM-27 on HAV replication in cell culture and virulence in tamarins (Saguinus mystax) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Kinetic studies and radioimmunofocus assays demonstrated that replacement of the 2C gene of HAV/7, a cell culture-adapted strain of HM-175, with that of AGM-27 drastically reduced the ability of the virus to replicate in cultured cells. Intragenic chimeras containing AGM-27 sequences in either the 5′ or 3′ half of the 2C gene replicated in cell culture at an intermediate level. Whereas HAV/7 is attenuated for tamarins, a chimera containing the simian virus 2C gene in the HAV/7 background was virulent in tamarins, demonstrating that the simian virus 2C gene alone can confer the phenotype of virulence to an otherwise attenuated virus. Clusters of AGM-27-specific residues near both ends of the 2C protein were required for virulence since a chimera containing AGM-27 sequences in the carboxy-terminal half of 2C was partially attenuated for tamarins while one containing AGM-27 sequences only in the amino-terminal half of 2C was even more attenuated. Chimeras containing either the entire or only the 3′ half of the simian virus 2C gene in the HAV/7 background were attenuated for chimpanzees.