We have investigated the RNA binding specificity of Hel-N1, a human neuron-specific RNA-binding protein, which contains three RNA recognition motifs. Hel-N1 is a human homolog of Drosophila melanogaster elav, which plays a vital role in the development of neurons. A random RNA selection procedure revealed that Hel-N1 prefers to bind RNAs containing short stretches of uridylates similar to those found in the 3' untranslated regions (3' UTRs) of oncoprotein and cytokine mRNAs such as c-myc, c-fos, and granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor. Direct binding studies demonstrated that Hel-N1 bound and formed multimers with c-myc 3' UTR mRNA and required, as a minimum, a specific 29-nucleotide stretch containing AUUUG, AUUUA, and GUUUUU. Deletion analysis demonstrated that a fragment of Hel-N1 containing 87 amino acids, encompassing the third RNA recognition motif, forms an RNA binding domain for the c-myc 3' UTR. In addition, Hel-N1 was shown to be reactive with autoantibodies from patients with paraneoplastic encephalomyelitis both before and after binding to c-myc mRNA.