In ‘5′-translational blockage’, significantly reduced yields of proteins are synthesized in Escherichia coli when consecutive low-usage codons are inserted near translation starts of messages (with reduced or no effect when these same codons are inserted downstream). We tested the hypothesis that ribosomes encountering these low-usage codons near the translation start prematurely release the mRNA. RNA from polysome gradients was fractionated into pools of polysomes and monosomes and a ribosome-free pool. New hybridization probes, called ‘molecular beacons’, and standard slot blots were used to detect test messages containing either consecutive low-usage AGG (arginine) or synonymous high-usage CGU insertions near the 5′ end. The results show an approximately twofold increase in the ratio of free to bound mRNA when the low-usage codons were present in the message compared with when high-usage codons were present. In contrast, there was no difference in the ratio of free to bound mRNA when consecutive low-usage CUA or high-usage CUG (leucine) codons were inserted or when the arginine codons were inserted near the 3′ end. These data indicate that at least some mRNA is released from ribosomes during 5′-translational blockage by arginine but not leucine codons, and they support proposals that premature termination of translation can occur in some conditions in vivo in the absence of a stop codon.