Rhopalosiphum padi virus (RhPV) is a member of the family Dicistroviridae. The genomes of viruses in this family contain two open reading frames, each preceded by distinct internal ribosome entry site (IRES) elements. The RhPV 5' IRES is functional in mammalian, insect and plant translation systems and can form 48S initiation complexes in vitro with just the mammalian initiation factors eIF2, eIF3 and eIF1. Large regions of the 5' untranslated region (UTR) can be deleted without affecting initiation-complex formation. The minimal sequences required for directing internal initiation in mammalian (rabbit reticulocyte lysate), plant (wheatgerm extract) and insect (Sf21 cells) translation systems have now been defined. A fragment (nt 426–579) from the 3' portion of the 5' UTR can direct translation in each of these translation systems. In addition, a distinct region (nt 300–429) is also active. Thus, unstructured regions within the 5' UTR seem to be critical for IRES function.