Based on precedents from other retroviruses, the precursor of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1) reverse transcriptase is predicted to be a polyprotein with a relative molecular mass (Mr) of 160,000 (160K) encoded by both the viral pol gene and the upstream gag gene. These two genes lie in different translational reading frames, with the 3' end of gag overlapping the 5' end of pol by 205 or 241 nucleotides. Thus, production of the gag-pol fusion protein would require either messenger RNA processing or translational frameshifting. The latter mechanism has been shown in the synthesis of the gag-pol proteins of two other retroviruses, Rous sarcoma virus (RSV) and mouse mammary tumour virus (MMTV). Here we report that translation of HIV-1 RNA synthesized in vitro by SP6 RNA polymerase yields significant amounts of a gag-pol fusion protein, indicating that efficient ribosomal frameshifting also occurs within the HIV-1 gag-pol overlap region. Site-directed mutagenesis and amino-acid sequencing localized the site of frameshifting to a UUA leucine codon near the 5' end of the overlap.