A family of eukaryotic RNA binding proteins is defined by the conserved RNP motif. The poly(A) binding protein has four such motifs. We report on the isolation and structural characterization of several variant cDNA clones, as well as of a gene encoding this protein in Xenopus laevis embryos. Wild-type protein as well as truncated versions carrying isolated single motifs or artificial combinations of two and more such elements were characterized for their ability to bind specifically to RNA homopolymers. Three of the isolated repeats were functional in specific RNA binding, whereas the N-terminal RNP motif was non-functional. Combinatorial effects in RNA binding were measured with constructs carrying multiple repeats, which were not predictable from the activity of isolated domains.