The sequence AAUAAA is found near the polyadenylation site of eucaryotic mRNAs. This sequence is required for accurate and efficient cleavage and polyadenylation of pre-mRNAs in vivo. In this study we show that synthetic simian virus 40 late pre-mRNAs are cleaved and polyadenylated in vitro in a HeLa cell nuclear extract, and that cleavage in vitro is abolished by each of four different single-base changes in AAUAAA. In this same extract, precleaved RNAs (RNAs with 3' termini at the polyadenylation site) are efficiently polyadenylated. This in vitro polyadenylation reaction also requires the AAUAAA sequence.