One of the two mechanisms that regulate expression of the replicase cistron in the single stranded RNA coliphages is translational coupling. This mechanism prevents ribosomes from binding at the start of the replicase cistron unless the upstream coat cistron is being translated. Genetic analysis had identified a maximal region of 132 nucleotides in the coat gene over which ribosomes should pass to activate the replicase start. Subsequent deletion studies in our laboratory had further narrowed down the regulatory region to 12 nucleotides. Here, we identify a long-distance RNA-RNA interaction of 6 base pairs as the basis of the translational polarity. The 3' side of the complementarity region is located in the coat-replicase intercistronic region, some 20 nucleotides before the start codon of the replicase. The 5' side encodes amino acids 31 and 32 of the coat protein. Mutations that disrupt the long-range interaction abolish the translational coupling. Repair of basepairing by second site base substitutions restores translational coupling.