Sex determination and X chromosome dosage compensation in Drosophila melanogaster are directed by the Sex-lethal (Sxl) protein. In part, Sxl functions by regulating the splicing of the transformer pre-mRNA by binding to a 3' splice site polypyrimidine tract. Polypyrimidine tracts are essential for splicing of metazoan pre-mRNAs. To unravel the mechanism of splicing regulation at polypyrimidine tracts we analyzed the interaction of Sxl with RNA. The RNA binding activity of Sxl was mapped to the two ribonucleoprotein consensus sequence domains of the protein. Quantitation of binding showed that both RNA binding domains (RBDs) were required in cis for site-specific RNA binding. Individual RBDs interacted with RNA more weakly and had lost the ability to discriminate between wild-type and mutant transformer polypyrimidine tracts. Structural elements in one of the RBDs that are likely to interact with a polypyrimidine tract were identified using nuclear magnetic resonance techniques. In addition, our data suggest that multiple imino protons of the transformer polypyrimidine tract were involved in hydrogen bonding. Interestingly, in vitro Sxl bound with equal affinity to polypyrimidine tracts of pre-mRNAs that it does not regulate in vivo. We discuss the implications of this finding for the mechanism through which Sxl may gain selectivity for particular polypyrimidine tracts in vivo.