We investigated the requirements for selenocysteine insertion at single or multiple UGA codons in eukaryotic selenoproteins. Two functional SECIS elements were identified in the 3' untranslated region of the rat selenoprotein P mRNA, with predicted stem-loops and critical nucleotides similar to those in the SECIS elements in the type I iodothyronine 5' deiodinase (5'DI) and glutathione peroxidase selenoprotein mRNAs. Site-directed mutational analyses of three SECIS elements confirmed that conserved nucleotides in the loop and in unpaired regions of the stem are critical for activity. This indicates that multiple contact sites are required for SECIS function. Stop codon function at any of five out-of-context UGA codons in the 5'DI mRNA was suppressed by SECIS elements from the 5'DI or selenoprotein P genes linked downstream. Thus, the presence of SECIS elements in eukaryotic selenoprotein mRNAs permits complete flexibility in UGA codon position.