5'-Noncoding sequences have been compiled from 699 vertebrate mRNAs. (GCC) GCCA/GCCATGG emerges as the consensus sequence for initiation of translation in vertebrates. The most highly conserved position in that motif is the purine in position -3 (three nucleotides upstream from the ATG codon); 97% of vertebrate mRNAs have a purine, most often A, in that position. The periodical occurrence of G (in positions -3, -6, -9) is discussed. Upstream ATG codons occur in fewer than 10% of vertebrate mRNAs-at-large; a notable exception are oncogene transcripts, two-thirds of which have ATG codons preceding the start of the major open reading frame. The leader sequences of most vertebrate mRNAs fall in the size range of 20 to 100 nucleotides. The significance of shorter and longer 5'-noncoding sequences is discussed.