While determining the 5' ends of C. elegans actin mRNAs, we have discovered a 22 nucleotide spliced leader sequence. The leader sequence is found on mRNA from three of the four nematode actin genes. The leader also appears to be present on some, but not all, nonactin mRNAs. The actin mRNA leader sequence is identical to the first 22 nucleotides of a novel 100 nucleotide RNA transcribed adjacent, and in the opposite orientation, to the 5S ribosomal gene. The evidence suggests that the actin mRNA leader sequence is acquired from this novel nucleotide transcript by an intermolecular trans-splicing mechanism.