U1 is a small non-polyadenylated nuclear RNA that is transcribed by RNA polymerase II and is known to play a role in mRNA splicing. The mature 3' end of U1 snRNA is formed in at least two steps. The first step generates precursors of U1 RNA with a few extra nucleotides at the 3' end; in the second step, these precursors are shortened to mature U1 RNA. Here, I have determined the sequences required for the first step. Human U1 genes with various deletions and substitutions near the 3' end of the coding region were constructed and introduced into HeLa cells by DNA transfection. The structure of the RNA synthesized during transient expression of the exogenous U1 gene was analyzed by S1 mapping. The results show that a 13 nucleotide sequence located downstream from the U1 coding region and conserved among U1, U2 and U3 genes of different species is the only sequence required to direct the first step in the formation of the 3' end of U1 snRNA.