Moloney murine leukemia virus (M-MuLV) lacking the gene for the envelope glycoprotein (env(-)) was produced in NIH 3T3 cells and investigated using atomic force microscopy (AFM). The particles were compared with similarly produced wild-type virions, some of which had been exposed to a monoclonal antibody against the surface component of the envelope protein (SU protein). The env(-) particles generally exhibit a distinctly different external appearance suggesting only a low density of associated proteins that have an almost fluid, mechanically unstable character. The weakly associated proteins may be host cell membrane proteins that are incorporated into the viral membrane in place of or in addition to virus envelope protein. The amount of this non-viral protein on virion surfaces appears to vary from negligible in most cases to a substantial complement in others. It seems clear that the presence of the envelope protein, in a mechanical sense, significantly strengthens and stabilizes the virion envelope. Binding of monoclonal antibody to wild-type virions indicates that some particles expose a significant amount of antigen while adjacent virions may not. This suggests that the conformation of the envelope glycoprotein or the disposition of oligosaccharides may be different among particles, on some virions exposing the specific epitope, and others little or none.