Our recent demonstration that many eukaryotic mRNAs contain sequences complementary to rRNA led to the hypothesis that these sequences might mediate specific interactions between mRNAs and ribosomes and thereby affect translation. In the present experiments, the ability of complementary sequences to bind to rRNA was investigated by using photochemical cross-linking. RNA probes with perfect complementarity to 18S or 28S rRNA were shown to cross-link specifically to the corresponding rRNA within intact ribosomal subunits. Similar results were obtained by using probes based on natural mRNA sequences with varying degrees of complementarity to the 18S rRNA. RNase H cleavage localized four such probes to complementary regions of the 18S rRNA. The effects of complementarity on translation were assessed by using the mRNA encoding ribosomal protein S15. This mRNA contains a sequence within its coding region that is complementary to the 18S rRNA at 20 of 22 nucleotides. RNA from an S15-luciferase fusion construct was translated in a cell-free lysate and compared with the translation of four related constructs that were mutated to decrease complementarity to the 18S rRNA. These mutations did not alter the amino acid sequence or the codon bias. A correlation between complementarity and translation was observed; constructs with less complementarity increased the amount of translation up to 54%. These findings raised the possibility that direct base-pairing of particular mRNAs to rRNAs within ribosomes may function as a mechanism of translational control.