The +1 site for transcription initiation of the inducible 23 S rRNA adenine methylase encoded by plasmid pE194 was determined experimentally by nuclease S1 mapping of mRNA synthesized in vivo, and by nuclease T1 mapping of (5'-gamma-32P)-end-labeled transcripts synthesized in vitro. By partial digestion of the in vitro transcripts using S1 and cobra venom nuclease as probes of mRNA conformation, the analysis was extended to reveal single-stranded and double-stranded regions, respectively, which correspond to the critical stems and loops postulated for active and inactive conformations of the nascent mRNA. According to the model for induction, the transition from inactive to active conformation involves disruption of mRNA secondary structure which, in turn, is predicated on protracted occupancy by ribosomes complexed with erythromycin of one of the critical stem sequences. Ribosome occupancy of the critical stem sequence is due to the presence of an open reading frame that encodes part of a 19 amino acid residue "leader" peptide. The existence of this peptide, deduced from the nucleotide sequence of the control region upstream from the methylase structural gene, was demonstrated in vivo as part of a translational fusion with Escherichia coli beta-galactosidase in which the first four amino acid residues of the N-terminal sequence of the fusion protein, analyzed directly by the microsequencing method, were found to comprise N-terminal amino acids 2 through 5, Gly-Ile-Phe-Ser, predicted for the leader peptide.