In a recent study we found that the efficiency of translation termination could be decreased several hundred fold by altering the local sequence context surrounding stop codons in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Suppression of termination was shown to be mediated by near-cognate tRNA mispairing with the termination codon. We have now examined in greater detail how the local sequence context affects the efficiency of translation termination in this organism. Our results indicate that the sequence immediately upstream of the termination codon plays a significant role in determining the efficiency of translation termination. An extended termination sequence (containing the stop codon and the following three nucleotides) was also found to be a major determinant of termination efficiency, with effects attributable to the fourth nucleotide being largely independent of the termination codon. For the UGA and UAA stop codons, the influence of the fourth position on termination efficiency (from most efficient to least efficient termination) was found to be G>U, A>C, while for the UAG codon it was U, A>C>G. These sequence-specific effects on the efficiency of translation termination suggest that polypeptide chain release factor (or another molecule that may play a role in translation termination, such as rRNA) recognizes an extended termination sequence in yeast. A previous study found a statistically significant bias toward certain tetranucleotide sequences (containing the stop codon and the first distal nucleotide) in several organisms. We found that tetranucleotide sequences most frequently used in yeast are among the most efficient at mediating translation termination, while rare tetranucleotide sequences mediate much less efficient termination. Taken together, our results indicate that upstream and downstream components of an extended sequence context act synergistically to determine the overall efficiency of translation termination in yeast. © 1995 Academic Press Limited.