We determined the sites at which ribosomes form initiation complexes on Rous sarcoma virus RNA in order to determine how initiation of Pr76(gag) synthesis at the fourth AUG codon from the 5' end of Rous sarcoma virus strain SR-A RNA occurs. Ribosomes bind almost exclusively at the 5'-proximal AUG codon when chloride is present as the major anion added to the translational system. However, when chloride is replaced with acetate, ribosomes bind at the two 5'-proximal AUG codon, as well as at the initiation site for Pr76(gag). We confirmed that the 5'-proximal AUG codon is part of a functional initiation site by identifying the seven-amino acid peptide encoded there. Our results suggest that (i) translation in vitro of Rous sarcoma virus virion RNA results in the synthesis of at least two polypeptides; (ii) the pattern of ribosome binding observed for Rous sarcoma virus RNA can be accounted for by the modified scanning hypothesis; and (iii) the interaction between 40S ribosomal subunits or 80S ribosomal complexes is stronger at the 5'-proximal AUG codon than at sites farther downstream, including the initiation site for the major viral proteins.