Retroviral genomes consist of two identical RNA molecules joined noncovalently near their 5'-ends. Recently, two models have been proposed for RNA dimer formation on the basis of results obtained in vitro with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 RNA and Moloney murine leukemia virus RNA. It was first proposed that viral RNA dimerizes by forming an interstrand quadruple helix with purine tetrads. The second model postulates that RNA dimerization is initiated by a loop-loop interaction between the two RNA molecules. In order to better characterize the dimerization process of retroviral genomic RNA, we analyzed the in vitro dimerization of avian sarcoma-leukosis virus (ASLV) RNA using different transcripts. We determined the requirements for heterodimer formation, the thermal dissociation of RNA dimers, and the influence of antisense DNA oligonucleotides on dimer formation. Our results strongly suggest that purine tetrads are not involved in dimer formation. Data show that an autocomplementary sequence located upstream from the splice donor site and within a major packaging signal plays a crucial role in ASLV RNA dimer formation in vitro. This sequence is able to form a stem-loop structure, and phylogenetic analysis reveals that it is conserved in 28 different avian sarcoma and leukosis viruses. These results suggest that dimerization of ASLV RNA is initiated by a loop-loop interaction between two RNA molecules and provide an additional argument for the ubiquity of the dimerization process via loop-loop interaction.