The expression of the Caulobacter crescentus homolog of dnaX, which in Escherichia coli encodes both the gamma and tau subunits of the DNA polymerase III holoenzyme, is subject to cell cycle control. We present evidence that the first amino acid in the predicted DnaX protein corresponds to the first codon in the mRNA transcribed from the dnaX promoter; thus, the ribosome must recognize the mRNA at a site downstream of the start codon in an unusual but not unprecedented fashion. Inserting four bases in front of the AUG at the 5' end of dnaX mRNA abolishes translation in the correct frame. The sequence upstream of the translational start site shows little homology to the canonical Shine-Dalgarno ribosome recognition sequence, but the region downstream of the start codon is complementary to a region of 16S rRNA implicated in downstream box recognition. The region downstream of the dnaX AUG, which is important for efficient translation, exhibits homology with the corresponding region from the Caulobacter hemE gene adjacent to the replication origin. The hemE gene also appears to be translated from a leaderless mRNA. Additionally, as was found for hemE, an upstream untranslated mRNA also extends into the dnaX coding sequence. We propose that translation of leaderless mRNAs may provide a mechanism by which the ribosome can distinguish between productive and nonproductive templates.