One of the distinguishing features of the alphaviruses is a sequential processing of the nonstructural polyproteins P1234 and P123. In the early stages of the infection, the complex of P123+nsP4 forms the primary replication complexes (RCs) that function in negative-strand RNA synthesis. The following processing steps make nsP1+P23+nsP4, and later nsP1+nsP2+nsP3+nsP4. The latter mature complex is active in positive-strand RNA synthesis but can no longer produce negative strands. However, the regulation of negative- and positive-strand RNA synthesis apparently is not the only function of ns polyprotein processing. In this study, we developed Sindbis virus mutants that were incapable of either P23 or P123 cleavage. Both mutants replicated in BHK-21 cells to levels comparable to those of the cleavage-competent virus. They continuously produced negative-strand RNA, but its synthesis was blocked by the translation inhibitor cycloheximide. Thus, after negative-strand synthesis, the ns proteins appeared to irreversibly change conformation and formed mature RCs, in spite of the lack of ns polyprotein cleavage. However, in the cells having no defects in α/β interferon (IFN-α/β) production and signaling, the cleavage-deficient viruses induced a high level of type IIFN and were incapable of causing the spread of infection. Moreover, the P123-cleavage-deficient virus was readily eliminated, even from the already infected cells. We speculate that this inability of the viruses with unprocessed polyprotein to productively replicate in the IFN-competent cells and in the cells of mosquito origin was an additional, important factor in ns polyprotein cleavage development. In the case of the Old World alphaviruses, it leads to the release of nsP2 protein, which plays a critical role in inhibiting the cellular antiviral response. Copyright © 2008, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.