The strategies developed by internal ribosome entry site (IRES) elements to recruit the translational machinery are poorly understood. In this study we show that protein–RNA interaction of the eIF4G translation initiation factor with sequences of the foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) IRES is a key determinant of internal translation initiation in living cells. Moreover, we have identified the nucleotides required for eIF4G-RNA functional interaction, using native proteins from FMDV-susceptible cell extracts. Substitutions in the conserved internal AA loop of the base of domain 4 led to strong impairment of both eIF4G-RNA interaction in vitro and IRES-dependent translation initiation in vivo. Conversely, substitutions in the vicinity of the internal AA loop that did not impair IRES activity retained their ability to interact with eIF4G. Direct UV-crosslinking as well as competition assays indicated that domains 1–2, 3, and 5 of the IRES did not contribute to this interaction. In agreement with this, binding to domain 4 alone was as efficient as to the full-length IRES. The C-terminal fragment of eIF4G, proteolytically processed by the FMDV Lb protease, was sufficient to interact with the IRES or to its domain 4 alone. Additionally, we show here that binding of the eIF4B initiation factor to the IRES required domain 5 sequences. Moreover, eIF4G-IRES interaction was detected in the absence of eIF4B-IRES binding, suggesting that both initiation factors interact with the 3′ region of the IRES but use different residues. The strong correlation found between eIF4G-RNA interaction and IRES activity in transfected cells suggests that eIF4G acts as a linker to recruit the translational machinery in IRES-dependent initiation.