The three consecutive G:C base pairs, G29:C41, G30:C40, and G31:C39, are conserved in the anticodon stem of virtually all initiator tRNAs from eubacteria, eukaryotes, and archaebacteria. We show that these G:C base pairs are important for function of the tRNA in initiation of protein synthesis in vivo. We changed these base pairs individually and in combinations and analyzed the activities of the mutant Escherichia coli initiator tRNAs in initiation in vivo. For assessment of activity of the mutant tRNAs in vivo, mutations in the G:C base pairs were coupled to mutation in the anticodon sequence from CAU to CUA. Mutations in each of the G:C base pairs reduced activity of the mutant tRNA in initiation, with mutation in the second G:C base pair having the most severe effect. The greatly reduced activity of this C30:G40 mutant tRNA is not due to defects in aminoacylation or formulation of the tRNA or defects in base modification of the A37, next to the anticodon, which we had previously shown to be important for activity of the mutant tRNAs in initiation. The anticodon stem mutants are most likely affected specifically at the step of binding to the ribosomal P site. The pattern of cleavages in the anticodon loop of mutant tRNAs by S1 nuclease indicate that the G:C base pairs may be involved directly in interactions of the tRNA with components of the P site on the ribosome rather than indirectly by inducing a particular conformation of the anticodon loop critical for function of the tRNA in initiation.