A model of secondary structure common for the central part (ca. 400 nucleotides) of the 5'-untranslated regions (5'-UTR) of all the so far sequenced genomes of polioviruses, coxsackieviruses, and rhinoviruses was derived on the basis of evolutionary and thermodynamic considerations. According to the model, this part of the genome comprises three domains, which appear to be involved, at least in the poliovirus genome, in the control of viral neurovirulence and in vitro translation. Some salient features of this model were supported by investigating RNAs of five poliovirus and one coxsackievirus strains with respect to their accessibility to modifications with dimethyl sulfate and sensitivity to single-strand- and double-strand-specific nucleases. In contrast to the previous suggestion, no major changes in the conformation of the Sabin vaccine poliovirus type 3 5'-UTR due to the transition in position 472 were observed. The biological relevance of the conserved primary and secondary structure elements in the picornaviral 5'-UTRs is discussed.