Virus particles are stable yet exhibit highly dynamic character given the events that shape their life cycle. Isolated from their hosts, the nucleoprotein particles are macromolecules that can be crystallized and studied by x-ray diffraction. During assembly, maturation and entry, however, they are highly dynamic and display remarkable plasticity. These dynamic properties can only be inferred from the x-ray structure and must be studied by methods that are sensitive to mobility. We have used matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry combined with time resolved, limited proteolysis (Cohen, S. L., Ferre-D'Amare, A. R., Burley, S. K., and Chait, B. T. (1995) Protein Sci. 4, 1088-1099; Kriwacki, R. W., Wu, J., Tennant, T., Wright, P. E., and Siuzdak, G. (1997) J. Chromatogr. 777, 23-30; Kriwacki, R. W., Wu, J., Siuzdak, G., and Wright, P. E. (1996) J. Am. Chem. Soc. 118, 5320-5321) to examine the viral capsid of flock house virus. Employing less than 10 microg of virus, time course digestion products were assigned to polypeptides of the subunit. Although surface regions in the three-dimensional structure were susceptible to cleavage on extended exposure to the protease, the first digestion products were invariably from parts of the subunit that are internal to the x-ray structure. Regions in the N- and C-terminal portions of the subunit, located within the shell in the x-ray structure, but implicated in RNA neutralization and RNA release and delivery, respectively, were the most susceptible to cleavage demonstrating transient exposure of these polypeptides to the viral surface.