The first ATP-dependent complex formed in pre-mRNA splicing is the prespliceosome, a 30 S complex. This reaction was investigated using partially purified fractions isolated from nuclear extracts of HeLa cells. Previous studies (Furneaux, H. M., Perkins, K. K., Freyer, G. A., Arenas, J., and Hurwitz, J. (1985) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 82, 4351-4355) have shown that DEAE-cellulose chromatography of nuclear extracts yielded two fractions (fractions I and II, eluted at 0.2 and 1 M NaCl, respectively) which carried out pre-mRNA splicing only when combined. Fraction II, alone and in the presence of ATP, supported the formation of the 30 S complex. In this report, we have separated fraction II into ribonucleoprotein and protein-rich fractions by isopycnic banding in CsCl. The combination of these two fractions completely replaced fraction II in prespliceosome formation; when supplemented with fraction Ib (1 M NaCl Biorex fraction derived from fraction I), the preparations supported spliceosome formation; when supplemented with fraction I, they yielded spliced products. The CsCl fractions, like fraction II, efficiently converted pre-mRNA to the 30 S complex with high yields (30-70%). The 30 S complex was shown to contain pre-mRNA complexed to U2 small ribonucleoproteins and small amounts of U1 small ribonucleoproteins. The 30 S complex protected a 50-nucleotide region at the 3'-end of the intron from T1 RNase attack. This region included sequences spanning the branch site, the polypyrimidine stretch and the AG dinucleotide of the 3'-splice site. When the 30 S complex was first generated with partially purified fractions, followed by the addition of a large amount of poly(U) or unlabeled pre-mRNA, the 30 S complex could be chased into a 55 S spliceosome complex by the addition of fraction Ib. These results support the conclusion, initially derived from kinetic data, that the 30 S complex is a precursor of the 55 S complex.