We have investigated the composition of the earliest detectable complex (H) assembled on pre-mRNA during the in vitro splicing reaction. We show that most of the proteins in this complex correspond to heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoproteins (hnRNP), a set of abundant RNA-binding proteins that bind nascent RNA polymerase II transcripts in vivo. Thus, these studies establish a direct parallel between the initial events of RNA processing in vitro and in vivo. In contrast to previous studies, in which total hnRNP particles were isolated from mammalian nuclei, we determined the hnRNP composition of complexes assembled on individual RNAs of defined sequence. We found that a unique combination of hnRNP proteins is associated with each RNA. Thus, our data provide direct evidence for transcript-dependent assembly of pre-mRNA in hnRNP complexes. The observation that pre-mRNA is differentially bound by hnRNP proteins prior to spliceosome assembly suggests the possibility that RNA packaging could play a central role in the mechanism of splice site selection, as well as other posttranscriptional events.