In eukaryotes, 40S ribosomal subunits move from their recruitment site on the mRNA to the initiation codon by an as yet poorly understood process. One postulated mechanism involves ribosomal shunting, in which ribosomal subunits completely bypass regions of the 5' leader. For some mRNAs, shunting has been shown to require various mRNA elements, some of which are thought to base pair to 18S rRNA; however, the role of base pairing has not yet been tested directly. In earlier studies, we demonstrated that a short mRNA element in the 5' leader of the Gtx homeodomain mRNA functioned as a ribosomal recruitment site by base pairing to the 18S rRNA. Using a model system to assess translation in transfected cells, we now show that this intermolecular interaction also facilitates ribosomal shunting across two types of obstacles: an upstream AUG codon in excellent context or a stable hairpin structure. Highly efficient shunting occurred when multiple Gtx elements were present upstream of the obstacles, and a single Gtx element was present downstream. Shunting was less efficient, however, when the multiple Gtx elements were present only upstream of the obstacles. In addition, control experiments with mRNAs lacking the upstream elements showed that these results could not be attributed to recruitment by the single downstream element. Experiments in yeast in which the mRNA elements and 18S rRNA sequences were both mutated indicated that shunting required an intact complementary match. The data obtained by this model system provide direct evidence that ribosomal shunting can be mediated by mRNA-rRNA base pairing, a finding that may have general implications for mechanisms of ribosome movement.