We have analyzed the pathway of mammalian spliceosome assembly in vitro using a mobility retardation assay. The binding of splicing complexes to both wild-type and mutant beta-globin pre-RNAs was studied. Three kinetically related, ATP-dependent complexes, alpha, beta, and gamma, were resolved with a wild-type beta-globin substrate. These complexes formed, both temporally and in order of decreasing mobility, alpha----beta----gamma. All three complexes contained U2 snRNA. The RNA intermediates of splicing, i.e., free 5' exon and intron lariat + 3' exon, were found predominantly in the gamma complex. The RNA products of splicing, i.e., ligated exons and fully excised intron lariat, were found in separate, postsplicing complexes which appeared to form via breakdown of gamma. Mutations of the 5' splice site, which caused an accumulation of splicing intermediates, also resulted in accumulation of the gamma complex. Mutations of the 3' splice site, which severely inhibited splicing, reduced the efficiency and altered the pattern of complex formation. Surprisingly, the analysis of double mutants, with sequence alterations at both the 5' and 3' splice sites, revealed that the 5' splice site genotype was important for the efficient formation of a U2 snRNA-containing alpha complex at the 3' splice site. Thus, it appears that a collaborative interaction between the separate 5' and 3' splice sites promotes spliceosome assembly.