The 5 ' untranslated region (UTR) of retroviruses contain structured replication motifs that impose barriers to efficient ribosome scanning. Two RNA structural motifs that facilitate efficient translation initiation despite a complex 5 ' UTR are internal ribosome entry site (IRES) and 5 ' proximal posttranscriptional control element (PCE). Here, stringent RNA and protein analyses determined the 5 ' UTR of spleen necrosis virus (SNV), reticuloendotheliosis virus A (REV-A) and human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) exhibit PCE activity, but not IRES activity. Assessment of SNV translation initiation in the natural context of the provirus determined that SNV is reliant on a cap-dependent initiation mechanism. Experiments with siRNAs identified that REV-A and HTLV-1 PCE modulate post-transcriptional gene expression through interaction with host RNA helicase A (RHA). Analysis of hybrid SNV/HTLV-1 proviruses determined SNV PCE facilitates Rex/Rex responsive element-independent Gag production and interaction with RHA is necessary. Ribosomal profile analyses determined that RHA is necessary for polysome association of HTLV-1 gag and provide direct evidence that RHA is necessary for efficient HTLV-1 replication. We conclude that PCE/RHA is an important translation regulatory axis of multiple lymphotropic retroviruses. We speculate divergent retroviruses have evolved a convergent RNA-protein interaction to modulate translation of their highly structured mRNA.