It is widely suggested that a eukaryotic mRNA typically contains one translation start site and encodes a single functional protein product. However, according to current points of view on translation initiation mechanisms, eukaryotic ribosomes can recognize several alternative translation start sites and the number of experimentally verified examples of alternative translation is growing rapidly. Also, the frequent occurrence of alternative translation events and their functional significance are supported by the results of computational evaluations. The functional role of alternative translation and its contribution to eukaryotic proteome complexity are discussed. BioEssays 30:683–691, 2008. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.