Cell surface expression of the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) major envelope glycoprotein complex, gp55-116 (gB), was studied by using monoclonal antibodies and an HCMV gp55-116 (gB) recombinant vaccinia virus. HCMV-infected human fibroblasts and recombinant vaccinia virus-infected HeLa cells expressed three electrophoretically distinct proteins of M(r) 170,000, 116,000, and 55,000 on their surface. These species have been previously identified within infected cells and purified virions. Two unique neutralizing epitopes were shown to be present on the cell surface gp55-116 (gB). Utilizing HeLa cells infected with the gp55-116 recombinant vaccinia virus as a specific immunosorbent, we have shown that approximately 40 to 70% of the total serum virus-neutralizing activity of a group of individuals with past HCMV infections was directed against this single envelope glycoprotein. The implciations of this finding for vaccine development are discussed.