5-Noncoding sequences have been tabulated for 211 messenger RNAs from higher eukaryotic cells. The 5'-proximal AUG triplet serves as the initiator codon in 95% of the mRNAs examined. The most conspicuous conserved feature is the presence of a purine (most often A) three nucleotides upstream from the AUG initiator codon; only 6 of the mRNAs in the survey have a pyrimidine in that position. There is a predominance of C in positions -1, -2, -4 and -5, just upstream from the initiator codon. The sequence CCAGCCAUG (G) thus emerges as a consensus sequence for eukaryotic initiation sites. The extent to which the ribosome binding site in a given mRNA matches the -1 to -5 consensus sequence varies: more than half of the mRNAs in the tabulation have 3 or 4 nucleotides in common with the CCACC consensus, but only ten mRNAs conform perfectly.