The replication of hepatitis A virus (HAV) in BS-C-1 cells was examined under single-cycle growth conditions by using strand-specific probes for detection of viral RNA species. No measurable lag phase was demonstrated between accumulation of positive-strand HAV RNA and production of infectious virions, indicating that replication of virion RNA is rate limiting for the production of infectious virus. Intracellular viral RNA was further analyzed by using 2 M LiCl to fractionate the insoluble nonvirion 35S RNA and replicative intermediates (RI) from the soluble virions and double-stranded replicative forms, in conjunction with sucrose density gradient ultracentrifugation to separate the different forms of viral RNA. Throughout the productive phase of HAV infection, 95 to 97% of positive-strand HAV RNA was soluble in 2 M LiCl and was shown to be contained in mature virions. Of the LiCl-insoluble HAV RNA, more than 99% was positive-stranded 35S RNA, whereas 0.4% was negative stranded and had the sedimentation and partial RNase resistance characteristics of RI. The pattern of RNA accumulation in HAV-infected cells is thus very different from that seen in poliovirus-infected cells, where large pools of RI and mRNA are produced before RNA is sequestered into mature virions. The results of this study suggest that encapsidation of positive-strand HAV RNA inhibits transcription at all times during the growth cycle, thereby reducing the pool of replicating RNA and the final yield of infectious HAV.