The 94-kD large tumor (T) antigen specified by simian virus 40 (SV40) is sufficient to induce cell transformation. T antigen contains four H-2Db-restricted cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) recognition epitopes that are targets for CTL clones Y-1, Y-2, Y-3, and Y-5. These epitopes have been mapped to T antigen amino acids 207-215 (site I), 223-231 (sites II and III), and 489-497 (site V), respectively. Antigenic site loss variant cells that had lost one or more CTL recognition epitopes were previously selected by coculturing SV40-transformed H-2Db cells with the site-specific Db-restricted CTL clones. The genetic bases for T antigen CTL recognition epitope loss from the variant cells were identified by DNA amplification and direct sequencing of epitope-coding regions from variant cell DNAs. Cells selected for resistance to CTL clone Y-1 (K-1; K-1,4,5; K-3,1) carry deleted SV40 genomes lacking site I, II, and III coding sequences. Point mutations present within the site II/III coding region of Y-2-/Y-3-resistant cell lines specify the substitution of asparagine for lysine as T antigen amino acid 228 (K-2) or phenylalanine for tyrosine at position 230 (K-3). Point mutations identified within independently selected Y-5 resistant populations (K-5 and K-1,4,5) direct the substitution of isoleucine for asparagine at position 496 (K-5) or the substitution of phenylalanine for isoleucine at position 491 (K-1,4,5) of T antigen. Each substitution causes loss of the relevant CTL recognition epitope, apparently by compromising CTL T cell receptor recognition. These experiments identify specific amino acid changes within a transforming protein that facilitate transformed cell escape from site-specific CTL clones while allowing maintenance of cellular transformation. This experimental model system provides unique opportunities for studying mechanisms of transformed cell escape from active immunosurveillance in vivo, and for analysis of differential host immune responses to wild-type and mutant cell-transforming proteins.