Truncated mouse ribosomal DNA (rDNA) genes were stably incorporated into rat HTC-5 cells by DNA-mediated cell transfection techniques. The mouse rDNA genes were accurately transcribed in these rat cells indicating that there is no absolute species specificity of rDNA transcription between mouse and rat. No more than 170 nucleotides of the 5' nontranscribed spacer was required for the accurate initiation of mouse rDNA transcription in rat cells. Further, the mouse transcripts were accurately cleaved at the 5' end of the 18S rRNA sequence, even though these transcripts contained neither the 3' end of mouse 18S rRNA nor any other downstream mouse sequences. Thus, cleavage at the 5' end of 18S rRNA is not dependent on long range interactions involving these downstream sequences.