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Eukaryotic translation is initiated following binding of ribosomes either to the capped 5' end of an mRNA or to an internal ribosomal entry site (IRES) within its 5' nontranslated region. These processes are both mediated by eukaryotic initiation factor 4F (eIF4F), which consists of eIF4A (helicase), eIF4E (cap-binding protein), and eIF4G subunits. Here we present a functional analysis of eIF4F which defines the subunits and subunit domains necessary for its function in initiation mediated by the prototypical IRES element of encephalomyocarditis virus. In an initiation reaction reconstituted in vitro from purified translation components and lacking eIF4A and -4F, IRES-mediated initiation did not require the cap-binding protein eIF4E but was absolutely dependent on eIF4A and the central third of eIF4G. This central domain of eIF4G bound strongly and specifically to a structural element within the encephalomyocarditis virus IRES upstream of the initiation codon in an ATP-independent manner and with the same specificity as eIF4F. The carboxy-terminal third of eIF4G did not bind to the IRES. The central domain of eIF4G was itself UV cross-linked to the IRES and strongly stimulated UV cross-linking of eIF4A to the IRES in conjunction with either eIF4B or with the carboxy-terminal third of eIF4G.