The 3C-like proteinase of mouse hepatitis virus (MHV-3CLpro) is predicted to cleave at least 10 sites in the gene 1 polyprotein, resulting in processing of proteinase, polymerase and helicase proteins from the polyprotein. We have used E. coli expressed recombinant 3CLpro (r3CLpro) to define cleavage sites in carboxy-terminal region of the ORF 1a polyprotein. Polypeptides containing one or more putative 3CLpro cleavage site were translated in vitro from subcloned regions of gene 1, and the polypeptides were incubated with r3CLpro. Analysis of the cleavage products confirmed several putative cleavage sites, as well as identifying cleavage sites not previously predicted by analysis of the MHV sequence. Antibodies directed against a portion of the ORF 1a polyprotein were used to probe virus infected cells, and detected proteins that correspond to the cleavage sites used by 3CLpro in vitro. These results suggest that MHV 3CLpro cleaves at least 7 sites in the ORF 1a polyprotein, and that the specificity of 3CLpro for cleavage site dipeptides may be broader than previously predicted.