Retroviruses integrated at unique locations in the host genome can be expressed at different levels. We have analyzed the preintegration sites of three transcriptionally competent avian endogenous proviruses (evs) to determine whether the various levels of provirus expression correlate with their location in active or inactive regions of chromatin. Our results show that in three of four cell types, the chromatin conformation (as defined by relative nuclease sensitivity) of virus preintegration sites correlates with the level of expression of the resident provirus in ev+ cells: two inactive proviruses (ev-1 and ev-2) reside in nuclease-resistant chromatin domains and one active provirus (ev-3) resides in a nuclease-sensitive domain. Nuclear runoff transcription assays reveal that the preintegration sites of the active and inactive viruses are not transcribed. However, in erythrocytes of 15-day-old chicken embryos (15d RBCs), the structure and activity of the ev-3 provirus is independent of the conformation of its preintegration site. In this cell type, the ev-3 preintegration site is organized in a nuclease-resistant conformation, while the ev-3 provirus is in a nuclease-sensitive conformation and is transcribed. In addition, the nuclease sensitivity of host sequences adjacent to ev-3 is altered in ev-3+ 15d RBCs relative to that found in 15d RBCs that lack ev-3. These data suggest that the relationship between preintegration site structure and retrovirus expression is more complex than previously described.