Programmed ribosomal frameshifting is an essential mechanism used for the expression of orf1b in coronaviruses. Comparative analysis of the frameshift region reveals a universal shift site U_UUA_AAC, followed by a predicted downstream RNA structure in the form of either a pseudoknot or kissing stem loops. Frameshifting in SARS-CoV has been characterized in cultured mammalian cells using a dual luciferase reporter system and mass spectrometry. Mutagenic analysis of the SARS-CoV shift site and mass spectrometry of an affinity tagged frameshift product confirmed tandem tRNA slippage on the sequence U_UUA_AAC. Analysis of the downstream pseudoknot stimulator of frameshifting in SARS-CoV shows that a proposed RNA secondary structure in loop II and two unpaired nucleotides at the stem I-stem II junction in SARS-CoV are important for frameshift stimulation. These results demonstrate key sequences required for efficient frameshifting, and the utility of mass spectrometry to study ribosomal frameshifting.