The RU5 region at the 5' RNA terminus of spleen necrosis virus (SNV) has been shown to facilitate expression of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV) unspliced RNA independently of the Rev-responsive element (RRE) and Rev. The SNV sequences act as a distinct posttranscriptional control element to stimulate gag RNA nuclear export and association with polyribosomes. Here we sought to determine whether RU5 functions to neutralize the cis-acting inhibitory sequences (INSs) in HIV RNA that confer RRE/Rev dependence or functions as an independent stimulatory sequence. Experiments with HIV gag reporter plasmids that contain inactivated INS-1 indicated that neutralization of INSs does not account for RU5 function. Results with luciferase reporter gene (luc) plasmids further indicated that RU5 stimulates expression of a nonretroviral RNA that lacks INSs. Northern blot and RT-PCR analyses indicated that RU5 does not increase the steady-state levels or nuclear export of the luc transcript but rather that the U5 region facilitates efficient polyribosomal association of the mRNA. RU5 does not function as an internal ribosome entry site in bicistronic reporter plasmids, and it requires the 5'-proximal position for efficient function. Our results indicate that RU5 contains stimulatory sequences that function in a 5'-proximal position to enhance initiation of translation of a nonretroviral reporter gene RNA. We speculate that RU5 evolved to overcome the translation-inhibitory effect of the highly structured encapsidation signal and other replication motifs in the 5' untranslated region of the retroviral RNA.