Nucleotide sequence analysis was carried out to study genes encoding the matrix (M) protein of measles virus (MV) from several regions of the brain of a case of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. This analysis revealed the presence of MV with 'wild-type' sequences as well as variants which had undergone at least five biased hypermutation events (U to C and A to G in the positive strand sequences). Despite the presence of MV variants with genes encoding the intact matrix protein open reading frame, M protein could not be detected in any of the brain regions. The distribution of virus variants was studied by cDNA cloning and sequence analysis and by in situ hybridization. The hypermutated viruses appeared to expand clonally throughout the brain of patient B.