In a previous report it was shown that mammalian ribosomes were capable of initiating translation at a non-AUG triplet when the initiation codon of mouse dihydrofolate reductase (dhfr) was mutated to ACG (Peabody, D.S. (1987) J. Biol. Chem. 262, 11847-11851). In order to assess the capacity of the mammalian translation apparatus to initiate at other non-AUG triplets, the initiator AUG of dihydrofolate reductase was converted to GUG, UUG, CUG, AGG, AAG, AUA, AUC, and AUU. These represent (with ACG) all the possible triplets that differ from AUG by only one nucleotide. The ability of each mutant to produce dihydrofolate reductase was assessed by in vitro transcription/translation of the mutant dhfr sequences under control of the bacteriophage SP6 promoter. Each of the triplets (with the exceptions of AGG and AAG) was able to direct the synthesis of apparently normal dihydrofolate reductase. Incorporation of [35S]tRNAifMet into the products of in vitro translation indicates that in each case the non-AUG triplet is able to direct initiation of the polypeptide chain with methionine. The mutant dhfr sequences were also inserted into the mammalian expression vector SVGT5 for expression in cultured monkey cells. The hierarchy of relative translation efficiencies was similar in vivo and in vitro.