The appearance of de novo deletion mutations in the readthrough (RT) region (nucleotide positions 861-2591) downstream of the capsid protein (CP) gene of a Japanese strain of Soil-borne wheat mosaic virus RNA2 was examined using infectious transcripts. Mutant RNA2s with different deletions predominated in independent serial passage experiments but all best-adapted mutants retained the 3'-terminal portion of the RT gene in frame with the CP gene. The longest best-adapted mutation deleted the 1434 nucleotides between positions 1061 and 2494. When the RT protein was truncated by insertion of a termination codon plus an additional nucleotide to give a +1 frame-shift, after serial passages the progeny viruses regained the ability to express the C-terminal region of RT by an internal deletion. The 5' terminus of the p19 subgenomic RNA was identified at position 2598 and an essential transcription signal for this mRNA mapped between positions 2534 and 2563. A mutant in which this essential promoter element has been deleted cannot transcribe the p19 subgenomic RNA and has lost infectivity in planta. These results indicate that the 3'-terminal region of the RT gene has a major function in cis for expression of p19, which is essential for infecting plants. A reason for retaining the RT C-terminal region in stable deletion mutants is still unknown.