Arginine is coded for by CGN (N = G, A, U, C), AGA and AGG. In Escherichia coli there is little tRNA for AGA and AGG and the use of these codons is strongly avoided in virtually all genes. Recently, we demonstrated that the presence of tandem AGA or AGG codons in mRNA causes frameshifts with high frequency. Here, we show that phaseshifts can be suppressed when cells are transformed with the gene for tRNA(T4Arg) or E. coli tRNA(argU,Arg) demonstrating that such errors are the result of tRNA depletion. Bacteriophage T4 encoded tRNA(Arg) (anticodon UCU) corrects shifts at AGA-AGA but not at AGG-AGG, suggesting that this tRNA can only read AGA. Similarly, comparison of the translational efficiencies in an argU (Ts) mutant and in its isogenic wild type parent indicates that argU tRNA (anticodon UCU) reads AGA but not AGG. An argU (Ts) mutant barely reads through AGA-AGA at 42 degrees C but translation of AGG-AGG is hardly, if at all, affected. Overexpression of argU+ relaxes the codon specificity. The thermosensitive mutant in argU, previously called dnaY because it is defective in DNA replication, can be complemented for growth by the gene for tRNA(T4Arg). This implies that the sole function of the argU gene product is to sustain protein synthesis and that its role in replication is probably indirect.