The requirement for ATP for initiation of eukaryotic mRNA translation was tested using gel-filtered rabbit reticulocyte lysates incubated with labelled Met-tRNAfMet and exogenous RNA templates, and assaying the formation of labelled 80S initiation complexes in the presence of GTP, or labelled 40S initiation complexes in the presence of a non-hydrolysable analogue of GTP. Initiation complex formation on globin mRNA, or on capped viral RNAs such as papaya mosaic virus RNA and tobacco mosaic virus RNA, was strongly stimulated by ATP. In contrast, initiation complex formation on (uncapped) encephalomyocarditis virus RNA was uninfluenced by the presence or absence of ATP, which may be correlated with the recent evidence for scanning-independent internal initiation on this viral RNA. In addition, initiation complex formation on uncapped cowpea mosaic virus RNA and on poly(A,U,G) was only slightly stimulated by ATP, much less than in the case of the capped RNAs. These results suggest that most of the ATP hydrolysed during translation initiation is consumed in cap-dependent processes, probably in unwinding the mRNA, and relatively little in the actual migration or scanning of 40S subunits along the mRNA.