Two defective RNA-containing isolates (Pe-1 and 16-2) and an envelope-deficient (env¯) isolate of Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) were tested for their transmissibility by Frankliniella occidentalis. The Pe-1 isolate contained a truncated L RNA segment that barely interfered with symptom expression and replication of the wild-type (wt) L RNA segment. This isolate was transmitted with an efficiency of 51%, a value comparable to that found for wt TSWV (54%). Isolate 16-2, which contained a genuine defective interfering L RNA as concluded from its ability to suppress wt L RNA synthesis and attenuation of symptom expression, was not transmitted at all. The midguts of all larvae that ingested Pe-1 became infected, whereas limited midgut infections were found in 24% of the larvae that ingested 16-2. This difference in infection could be explained by the presence of a low number of infectious units in the inoculum ingested from plants as demonstrated in infection experiments and verified by northern blot analysis. The env¯ isolate failed to infect the midgut after ingestion and could not be transmitted by any thrips stage. This isolate also cannot infect primary thrips cell cultures. Taken together, these results suggest that the envelope of TSWV contains the determinants required for binding and subsequent infection of thrips cells.