The S glycoprotein of transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV) has been shown to contain four major antigenic sites (A, B, C, and D). Site A is the main inducer of neutralizing antibodies and has been previously subdivided into the three subsites Aa, Ab, and Ac. The residues that contribute to these sites were localized by sequence analysis of 21 mutants that escaped neutralization or binding by TGEV-specific monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), and by epitope scanning (PEPSCAN). Site A contains the residues 538, 591, and 543, which are essential in the formation of subsites Aa, Ab, and Ac, respectively. In addition, mar mutant 1B.H6 with residue 586 changed had partially altered both subsite Aa and Ab, indicating that these subsites overlap in residue 586; i.e. this residue also is part of site A. The peptide 537-MKSGYGQPIA-547 represents, at least partially, subsite Ac which is highly conserved among coronaviruses. This site is relevant for diagnosis and could be of interest for protection. Other residues contribute to site B (residues 97 and 144), site C (residues 50 and 51), and site D (residue 385). The location of site D is in agreement with PEPSCAN results. Site C can be represented by the peptide 48-P-P/S-N-S-D/E-52 but is not exposed on the surface of native virus. Its accessibility can be modulated by treatment at pH greater than 11 (at 4 degrees) and temperatures greater than 45 degrees. Sites A and B are fully dependent on glycosylation for proper folding, while sites C and D are fully or partially independent of glycosylation, respectively. Once the S glycoprotein has been assembled into the virion, the carbohydrate moiety is not essential for the antigenic sites.