Antisense RNA-mediated transcriptional attenuation is the mode of replication control of several plasmids, among them pIP501. This mechanism implies that the repR mRNAs can fold into two mutually exclusive structures. The formation of one of these structures is induced by binding of the antisense RNA and results in premature termination. Since the fate of the nascent mRNA transcripts depends on the binding rate of the antisense RNA to its target, the control is kinetic. We have studied the antisense RNA, RNAIII, and target RNA, RNAII, whose interaction determines the replication frequency of plasmid pIP501. RNA secondary structures were analyzed using structure-specific RNases. RNA binding was studied in vitro with normal size and truncated RNAIII species. An in vitro single-round attenuation assay was developed that permits qualitative and quantitative assessment of inhibition by RNAIII. The effect of varying concentrations of RNAIII species on attenuation was tested and inhibition rate constants were calculated. The inhibition rate constants were at least 10 times higher than the pairing rate constants. Thus, steps preceding stable RNA duplex formation are sufficient to induce RNAIII-dependent termination of nascent RNAII transcripts.