The pattern of protein synthesis changes soon after fertilization of clam oocytes. The most abundant of the mRNAs whose translation increases at this time encode ribonucleotide reductase and the A- and B-type cyclins. These mRNAs have been cloned and sequenced, yet their sequences do not show regions of similarity that could explain the masking mechanism. However, these mRNAs retain their 'masked' state in cell-free translation assays and their translation can be activated by gel filtration in high salt, which probably removes repressor proteins. A 'competitive unmasking' assay was used to identify the protein-binding regions of each mRNA. This involved adding short segments of antisense RNA that annealed to the mRNA and displaced the repressors. The unmasking regions in ribonucleotide reductase and cyclin A mRNAs revealed by this assay are 120-140 nt long and are located in the central portions of the 3' non-coding regions.