The human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) envelope glycoprotein complex gp55-116 was expressed in both Escherichia coli and cells infected with a recombinant vaccinia virus. E. coli produced a single protein of M(r) 100,000 which approximated the size of the nonglycosylated gp55-116 precursors found in HCMV-infected cells. Cells infected with the recombinant vaccinia virus contained three intracellular forms of M(r) 160,000, 150,000, and 55,000 which were detected by a monoclonal antibody reactive with gp55. Comparison of the immunological properties of these recombinant proteins indicated that several of the HCMV gp55-116 monoclonal antibodies and sera from patients infected with HCMV reacted with the vaccinia virus-derived proteins whereas a more restricted group of monoclonal antibodies recognized the E. coli-produced protein. Immunization of mice with either E. coli or vaccinia virus recombinatn HCMV gp55-116 resulted in production of virus-neutralizing antibodies. In contrast to the almost exclusive production of complement-dependent neutralizing antibodies following immunization with recombinant vaccinia virus, the E. coli-derived protein induced complement-independent neutralizing antibodies.