The internal ribosome entry segment (IRES) of picornaviruses consists of ∼450 nt of 5′-untranslated region, terminating at the 3′ end with an ∼25 nt element consisting of an absolutely conserved UUUC motif followed by a more variable pyrimidine-rich tract and G-poor spacer, and finally an AUG triplet, which is considered to be the actual ribosome entry site. Events following entry at this site differ among picornaviruses: in encephalomyocarditis virus (EMCV) virtually all ribosomes initiate translation at this site (AUG-11); in foot-and-mouth-disease virus (FMDV), one-third of the ribosomes initiate at this AUG (the Lab site), and the rest at the next AUG 84 nt downstream (Lb site); and in poliovirus (PV), the AUG at the 3′ end of the IRES (at nt 586 in PV type 1) is considered to be a silent entry site, with all ribosomes initiating translation at the next AUG downstream (nt 743). To investigate what determines this different behavior, chimeras were constructed with a crossover at the conserved UUUC motif: the body of the IRES, the sequences upstream of this UUUC motif, was derived from one species, and the downstream sequences from another. When the body of the FMDV or PV IRESes was replaced by that of EMCV, there was a marked increase in the absolute and relative frequency of initiation at the upstream AUG, the Lab site of FMDV and 586AUG of PV, respectively. In contrast, when the body of the EMCV IRES was replaced by that of PV, initiation occurred with no preference at three AUGs: the normal site (AUG-11), AUG-10 situated 8 nt upstream, and AUG-12, which is 12 nt downstream. Thus although the context of the AUG at the 3′ end of the IRES may influence initiation frequency at this site, as was shown by improving the context of 586AUG of PV, the behavior of the ribosome is also highly dependent on the nature of the upstream IRES. Delivery of the ribosome to this AUG in an initiation-competent manner is particularly efficient and accurate with the EMCV IRES.