Expression plasmids containing the E. coli lacZ coding region preceded by a set of different ribosome-binding sites and put under transcriptional control of the leftward promoter of phage lambda (PL) were used to study the synthesis of lacZ mRNA. In a normal host the steady state level of full-length lacZ mRNA varied 100-fold with the different synthesis levels of beta-galactosidase, whereas in a host expressing the antitermination protein N of phage lambda, all vectors synthesized the same amount of full-length lacZ mRNA, while maintaining the differences in beta-galactosidase expression. We present evidence for a causal relationship between the rate of ribosome loading and the continuation of transcription across the lacZ gene. We suggest that extended spacing between the RNA polymerase and the elongating ribosome causes transcriptional polarity by increasing the extent of premature termination. The conditional character of the termination event can best be explained by invoking termination factor Rho.