The type I insulin-like growth factor receptor (IGF-IR) is an integral component in the control of cell proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis. The IGF-IR mRNA contains an extraordinarily long (1038 nt) 5′-untranslated region (5′-UTR), and we have characterized a diverse series of proteins interacting with this RNA sequence which may provide for intricate regulation of IGF-IR gene expression at the translational level. Here, we report the purification and identification of one of these IGF-IR 5′-UTR-binding proteins as HuR, using a novel RNA crosslinking/RNase elution strategy. Because HuR has been predominantly characterized as a 3′-UTR-binding protein, enhancing mRNA stability and generally increasing gene expression, we sought to determine whether HuR might serve a different function in the context of its binding the IGF-IR 5′-UTR. We found that HuR consistently repressed translation initiation through the IGF-IR 5′-UTR. The inhibition of translation by HuR was concentration dependent, and could be reversed in trans by addition of a fragment of the IGF-IR 5′-UTR containing the HuR binding sites as a specific competitor, or abrogated by deletion of the third RNA recognition motif of HuR. We determined that HuR repressed translation initiation through the IGF-IR 5′-UTR in cells as well, and that siRNA knockdown of HuR markedly increased IGF-IR protein levels. Interestingly, we also found that HuR potently inhibited IGF-IR translation mediated through internal ribosome entry. Kinetic assays were performed to investigate the mechanism of translation repression by HuR and the dynamic interplay between HuR and the translation apparatus. We found that HuR, occupying a cap-distal position, significantly delayed translation initiation mediated by cap-dependent scanning, but was eventually displaced from its binding site, directly or indirectly, as a consequence of ribosomal scanning. However, HuR perpetually blocked the activity of the IGF-IR IRES, apparently arresting the IRES-associated translation pre-initiation complex in an inactive state. This function of HuR as a 5′-UTR-binding protein and dual-purpose translation repressor may be critical for the precise regulation of IGF-IR expression essential to normal cellular homeostasis. © The Author 2005. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.