The translation initiation factor eIF4A is cleaved within mammalian cells infected by foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV). The FMDV 3C protease cleaves eIF4AI (between residues E143 and V144), but not the closely related eIF4AII. Modification of eIF4AI, to produce a sequence identical to eIF4AII around the cleavage site, blocked proteolysis. Alignment of mammalian eIF4AI onto the three-dimensional structure of yeast eIF4A located the scissile bond within an exposed, flexible portion of the molecule. The N- and C-terminal cleavage products of eIF4AI generated by FMDV 3C dissociate. Cleavage of eIF4AI by FMDV 3C is thus expected to inactivate it. (C) 2001 Federation of European Biochemical Societies. Published by Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.