Homologous recombination and deletions occur during retroviral replication when reverse transcriptase switches templates. While recombination occurs solely by intermolecular template switching (between copackaged RNAs), deletions can occur by an intermolecular or an intramolecular template switch (within the same RNA). To directly compare the rates of intramolecular and intermolecular template switching, two spleen necrosis virus-based vectors were constructed. Each vector contained a 110- bp direct repeat that was previously shown to delete at a high rate. The 110- bp direct repeat was flanked by two different sets of restriction site markers. These vectors were used to form heterozygotic virions containing RNAs of each parental vector, from which recombinant viruses were generated. By analyses of the markers flanking the direct repeats in recombinant and nonrecombinant proviruses, the rates of intramolecular and intermolecular template switching were determined. The results of these analyses indicate that intramolecular template switching is much more efficient than intermolecular template switching and that direct repeat deletions occur primarily through intramolecular template switching events. These studies also indicate that retroviral recombination occurs within a distinct viral subpopulation and exhibits high negative interference, whereby the selection of one recombination event increases the probability that a second recombination event will be observed.