A naturally arising point mutation in the env gene of HIV-1 activates the aberrant inclusion of the cryptic exon 6D into most viral messages, leading to inefficient viral replication. We set out to understand how a single nucleotide substitution could cause such a dramatic change in splicing. We have determined that the exon 6D mutation promotes binding of the SR protein SC35 to the exon. Mutant exon 6D sequences function as a splicing enhancer when inserted into an enhancer-dependent splicing construct. hnRNP H family proteins bind to the enhancer as well; their binding is dependent on the sequence GGGA located just downstream of the point mutation and depletion-- reconstitution studies show that hnRNP H is essential for enhancer activity. A polypurine sequence located further downstream in exon 6D binds SR proteins but acts as an exonic splicing silencer. hnRNP H is required for interaction of U1 snRNP with the enhancer, independent of the point mutation. We propose that SC35 binding to the point mutation region may convert the hnRNP H-U1 snRNP complex into a splicing enhancer.