Cap-independent internal initiation of translation occurs on a number of viral and cellular mRNAs and is directed by internal ribosome entry site (IRES) elements. Rhopalosiphum padi virus (RhPV) is a member of the Dicistroviridae. These viruses have single-stranded, positive-sense RNA genomes that contain two open reading frames, both preceded by IRES elements. Previously, the activity of the RhPV 5' UTR IRES has been demonstrated in mammalian, Drosophila and wheat germ in vitro translation systems. It is now shown that this IRES also functions within Spodoptera frugiperda (Sf21) cells which are widely used in the baculovirus expression system, and in a novel Sf21 cell-based lysate system. Inclusion of the RhPV IRES in a dicistronic reporter mRNA transcript increased translation of the second cistron 23-fold within Sf21 cells. In contrast, the encephalomyocarditis virus IRES was inactive in both systems. The RhPV IRES therefore has the potential to be utilized in insect cell expression systems.