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The adenovirus tripartite leader is a 200-nucleotide 5' noncoding region that is found on all late viral mRNAs. This segment is required for preferential translation of viral mRNAs at late times during infection. Most tripartite leader-containing mRNAs appear to exhibit little if any requirement for intact cap-binding protein complex, a property previously established only for uncapped poliovirus mRNAs and capped mRNAs with minimal secondary structure. The tripartite leader also permits the translation of mRNAs in poliovirus-infected cells in the apparent absence of active cap-binding protein complex and does not require any adenovirus gene products for this activity. The preferential translation of viral late mRNAs may involve this unusual property.