Ribosomal proteins L10 and L12 are encoded in the L10 operon, situated at position 89.5 min on the Escherichia coli genetic map, and are able to regulate their own translation. The two proteins form a L10-L12 complex that is able to bind specifically to the leader sequence of the L10 operon mRNA and prevent translation. We show that the leader sequence: (i) is required for the translation of mRNA into L10 and L12 proteins; and (ii) contains a unique binding site for the inhibitory L10-L12 complex. We suggest that a specific secondary structure of the leader RNA is required for translation. When this structure is perturbed by L10-L12 binding, by deletion, or point mutations, translation is inhibited. The block on the synthesis of L10 and L12 can presumably be removed by the incorporation of the inhibitory L10-L12 complex into assembling 50S ribosome subunits. We observed that rRNA prevents the binding of L10-L12 to the mRNA. Furthermore, we have identified extended sequence homologies within the 23S rRNA and L10 leader region RNA. The L10-L12 binding site on the mRNA includes part of the homologous sequences.