The X-ray structure of the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E (eIF4E), bound to 7-methyl-GDP, has been determined at 2.2A resolution. eIF4E recognizes 5' 7-methyl-G(5')ppp(5')N mRNA caps during the rate-limiting initiation step of translation. The protein resembles a cupped hand, and consists of a curved, 8-stranded antiparallel beta-sheet, backed by three long alpha-helices. 7-methyl-GDP binds in a narrow cap-binding slot on the molecule's concave surface, where 7-methyl-guanine recognition is mediated by base sandwiching between two conserved tryptophans, plus formation of three hydrogen bonds and a van der Waals contact between its N7-methyl group and a third conserved tryptophan. Additional protein-ligand interactions include salt bridges and hydrogen bonds, plus water-mediated hydrogen bonds. The observed mode of 5' m-RNA cap recognition is almost certainly conserved among all known eIF4Es.