It is commonly believed that the translational efficiency of prokaryotic mRNAs is intrinsically determined by both primary and secondary structures of their translational initiation regions. However, for leaderless mRNAs starting with the AUG initiating codon occurring in bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes, there is no evidence for ribosomal recruitment signals downstream of the 5'-terminal AUG that seems to be the only necessary and constant element. Studies in Escherichia coli have brought to light that the ratio of initiation factors IF2 and IF3 plays a decisive role in translation initiation of leaderless mRNA, indicating that the translational efficiency of this mRNA class can be modulated depending on the availability of components of the translational machinery. Recent data suggested that the start codon of bacterial leaderless mRNAs is recognized by a ribosome-IF2-fMet-tRNA complex, an intermediate equivalent to that obligatorily formed during translation initiation in eukaryotes, which points to a conceptual similarity in all initiation pathways. In fact, the faithful translation of leaderless mRNAs in heterologous systems shows that the ability to translate leaderless mRNAs is an evolutionarily conserved function of the translational apparatus.