Genomic RNA of primate lentiviruses serves both as an mRNA that encodes Gag and Gag-Pol polyproteins and as a propagated genome. Translation of this RNA is initiated by standard cap dependant mechanism or by internal entry of the ribosome. Two regions of the genomic RNA are able to attract initiation complexes, the 5' untranslated region and the gag coding region itself. Relying on probing data and a phylogenetic study, we have modelled the secondary structure of HIV-1, HIV-2 and SIV(Mac) coding region. This approach brings to light conserved secondary-structure elements that were shown by mutations to be required for internal entry of the ribosome. No structural homologies with other described viral or cellular IRES can be identified and lentiviral IRESes show many peculiar properties. Most notably, the IRES present in HIV-2 gag coding region is endowed with the unique ability to recruit up to three initiation complexes on a single RNA molecule. The structural and functional properties of gag coding sequence define a new type of IRES. Although its precise role is unknown, the conservation of the IRES among fast evolving lentiviruses suggests an important physiological role.