The downstream box (DB) was originally described as a translational enhancer of several Escherichia coli and bacteriophage mRNAs located just downstream of the initiation codon. Here, we introduced nucleotide substitutions into the DB and Shine-Dalgarno (SD) region of the highly active bacteriophage T7 gene 10 ribosome binding site (RBS) to examine the possibility that the DB has an independent and functionally important role. Eradication of the SD sequence in the absence of a DB abolished the translational activity of RBS fragments that were fused to a dihydrofolate reductase reporter gene. In contrast, an optimized DB at various positions downstream of the initiation codon promoted highly efficient protein synthesis despite the lack of a SD region. The DB was not functional when shifted upstream of the initiation codon to the position of the SD sequence. Nucleotides 1469-1483 of 16S rRNA ('anti-downstream box') are complementary to the DB, and optimizing this complementarity strongly enhanced translation in the absence and presence of a SD region. We propose that the stimulatory interaction between the DB and the anti-DB places the start codon in close contact with the decoding region of 16S rRNA, thereby mediating independent and efficient initiation of translation.