Retroviral insertional mutagenesis can both generate somatic cell mutants and pinpoint the genomic locus associated with a mutant phenotype. In the present study, this approach was applied to Chinese hamster ovary cells (CHO) made susceptible to Moloney murine leukemia virus (MoMuLV) infection by stable expression of an ecotropic retrovirus receptor. These CHO cells were infected with a replication incompetent MoMuLV construct with a promoterless hygromycin phosphotransferase (hygro) gene inserted into the U3 region of the long terminal repeat and a second selectable marker, neomycin phosphotransferase (neo), expressed from an internal promoter. CHO clones containing integrated proviruses were selected with hygromycin or G418, and the subset of these with reduced cell surface Neu5Ac were then selected with wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). The majority of the resulting clones had a phenotype not previously described for WGA-resistant CHO mutants arising spontaneously or from chemical mutagenesis: Neu5Ac was almost completely replaced by Neu5Gc. We have provisionally termed these clones SAP mutants, for sialic acid phenotype. Southern analysis of HindIII digested DNA from four SAP mutants revealed that the MoMuLV provirus is present in a 10.4-kilobase (kb) fragment. Probing with a flanking CHO sequence resulted in equivalent hybridization to a 4.6-kb fragment and the 10.4-kb provirus-containing fragment in all four cases, while uninfected parental cells and non-SAP glycosylation mutants generated in the same retrovirus insertional mutagenesis experiments yielded only the 4.6-kb fragment. Sequencing of the 3'-flanking DNA revealed that each of the four SAP mutants had a unique provirus integration site falling within a 796 bp region of the CHO genome. The frequency with which SAP mutants arise suggests that this may be a preferred site for retrovirus integration.