The specificity of poliovirus encapsidation has been studied using a novel chimeric genome in which the gene encoding firefly luciferase has been substituted for the VP2-VP3-VP1 genes of the poliovirus capsid (P1) gene. Transfection of RNA transcribed in vitro from this genome resulted in a VP4- luciferase fusion protein which retained luciferase enzyme activity. Since the detection of enzyme activity was dependent upon replication of the transfected RNA genome, we refer to these genomes as replicons. The replicon encoding luciferase was encapsidated upon transfection of the genomic RNA into cells previously infected with a recombinant vaccinia virus, VV-P1, which encodes the poliovirus type 1 capsid proteins (P1). Infection of cells with each serial passage, followed by analysis of luciferase enzyme activity, revealed that encapsidated replicons could be detected at the first passage with W-P1. Amplification of the titer of encapsidated replicons occurred upon serial passage with VV-P1, as evidenced by the high expression levels of luciferase enzyme activity following infection. Serial passage of the luciferase replicons with poliovirus type 1, 2, or 3 resulted in the trans encapsidation into the type 1, 2, or 3 capsids, respectively. In contrast, serial passage with bovine enterovirus, Coxsackievirus A21 or B3, or enterovirus 70 did not result in trans encapsidation, even though co- infection of cells with the replicon and different enteroviruses resulted in high-level expression of luciferase. The results of this study highlight the specificity of poliovirus encapsidation and point to the use of encapsidated replicons encoding luciferase as a reagent for dissecting elements of replication and encapsidation.