Sequences that control translation of mRNA may play critical roles in regulating protein levels. One such element is the internal ribosome entry site (IRES). We previously showed that a 9-nt segment in the 5' leader sequence of the mRNA encoding Gtx homeodomain protein could function as an IRES. To identify other short sequences with similar properties, we designed a selection procedure that uses a retroviral vector to express dicistronic mRNAs encoding enhanced green and cyan fluorescent proteins as the first and second cistrons, respectively. Expression of the second cistron was dependent upon the intercistronic sequences and was indicative of IRES activity. B104 cells were infected with two retroviral libraries that contained random sequences of 9 or 18 nt in the intercistronic region. Cells expressing both cistrons were sorted, and sequences recovered from selected cells were reassayed for IRES activity in a dual luciferase dicistronic mRNA. Two novel IRESes were identified by this procedure, and both contained segments with complementarity to 18S rRNA. When multiple copies of either segment were linked together, IRES activities were dramatically enhanced. Moreover, these synthetic IRESes were differentially active in various cell types. These properties are similar to those of the previously identified 9-nt IRES module from Gtx mRNA. These results provide further evidence that short nucleotide sequences can function as IRESes and support the idea that some cellular IRESes may be composed of shorter functional modules. The ability to identify IRES modules with specific expression properties may be useful in the design of vectors for biotechnology and gene therapy.