Translation initiation site usage on the human rhinovirus 2 internal ribosome entry site (IRES) has been examined in a mixed reticulocyte lysate/HeLa cell extract system. There are two relevant AUG triplets, both in a base-paired hairpin structure (domain VI), with one on the 5' side at nucleotide (nt) 576, base paired with the other at nt 611, which is the initiation site for polyprotein synthesis. A single residue was inserted in the apical loop to put AUG-576 in frame with AUG-611, and in addition another in-frame AUG was introduced at nt 593. When most of the IRES was deleted to generate a monocistronic mRNA, the use of these AUGs conformed to the scanning ribosome model: improving the AUG-576 context increased initiation at this site and decreased initiation at downstream sites, whereas the converse was seen when AUG-576 was mutated to GUA; and AUG-593, when present, took complete precedence over AUG-611. Under IRES-dependent conditions, by contrast, much less initiation occurred at AUG-576 than in a monocistronic mRNA with the same AUG-576 context, mutation of AUG-576 decreased initiation at downstream sites by approximately 70%, and introduction of AUG-593 did not completely abrogate initiation at AUG-611, unless the apical base pairing in domain VI was destroyed by point mutations. These results indicate that ribosomes first bind at the AUG-576 site, but instead of initiating there, most of them are transferred to AUG-611, the majority by strictly linear scanning and a substantial minority by direct transfer, which is possibly facilitated by the occasional persistence of base pairing in the apical part of the domain VI stem.