Replication of alphaviruses strongly depends on the promoters located in the plus- and minus-strands of virus-specific RNAs. The most sophisticated promoter is encoded by the 5′ end of the viral genome. This RNA sequence is involved in the initiation of translation of viral nsPs, and synthesis of both minus- and plus-strands of the viral genome. Part of the promoter, the 51-nt conserved sequence element (CSE), is located in the nsP1-coding sequence, and this limits the spectrum of possible mutations that can be performed. We designed a recombinant Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus genome, in which the promoter and nsP1-coding sequences are separated. This modification has allowed us to perform a wide variety of genetic manipulations, without affecting the amino acid sequence of the nsPs, and to further investigate 51-nt CSE functioning. The results of this study suggest a direct interaction of the amino terminal domain of nsP2 with the 5′ end of the viral genome. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.