Poliovirus (PV) mRNA is unusual because it possesses a 5'-terminal monophosphate rather than a 5'-terminal cap. Uncapped mRNAs are typically degraded by the 5' exonuclease XRN1. A 5'-terminal cloverleaf RNA structure interacts with poly(rC) binding proteins (PCBPs) to protect uncapped PV mRNA from 5' exonuclease (K. E. Murray, A. W. Roberts, and D. J. Barton, RNA 7:1126-1141, 2001). In this study, we examined de novo polysome formation using HeLa cell-free translation-replication reactions. PV mRNA formed polysomes coordinate with the time needed for ribosomes to traverse the viral open reading frame (ORF). Nascent PV polypeptides cofractionated with viral polysomes, while mature PV proteins were released from the polysomes. Alterations in the size of the PV ORF correlated with alterations in the size of polysomes with ribosomes present every 250 to 500 nucleotides of the ORF. Eukaryotic initiation factor 4GI (eIF4GI) was cleaved rapidly as viral polysomes assembled and the COOH-terminal portion of eIF4GI cofractionated with viral polysomes. Poly(A) binding protein, along with PCBP 1 and 2, also cofractionated with viral polysomes. A C24A mutation that inhibits PCBP-5'-terminal cloverleaf RNA interactions inhibited the formation and stability of nascent PV polysomes. Kinetic analyses indicated that the PCBP-5' cloverleaf RNA interaction was necessary to protect PV mRNA from 5' exonuclease immediately as ribosomes initially traversed the viral ORF, before viral proteins could alter translation factors within nascent polysomes or contribute to ribonucleoprotein complexes at the termini of the viral mRNA.