The poly(A)-binding protein (PAB) gene of Saccharomyces cerevisiae is essential for cell growth. A 66-amino acid polypeptide containing half of a repeated N-terminal domain can replace the entire protein in vivo. Neither an octapeptide sequence conserved among eucaryotic RNA-binding proteins nor the C-terminal domain of PAB is required for function in vivo. A single N-terminal domain is nearly identical to the entire protein in the number of high-affinity sites for poly(A) binding in vitro (one site with an association constant of approximately 2 X 10(7) M-1) and in the size of the binding site (12 A residues). Multiple N-terminal domains afford a mechanism of PAB transfer between poly(A) strands.