Studies of programmed -1 ribosomal frameshifting (-1 PRF) have been approached over the past two decades by many different laboratories using a diverse array of virus-derived frameshift signals in translational assay systems derived from a variety of sources. Though it is generally acknowledged that both absolute and relative -1 PRF efficiency can vary in an assay system-dependent manner, no methodical study of this phenomenon has been undertaken. To address this issue, a series of slippery site mutants of the SARS-associated coronavirus frameshift signal were systematically assayed in four different eukaryotic translational systems. HIV-1 promoted frameshifting was also compared between Escherichia coli and a human T-cell line expression systems. The results of these analyses highlight different aspects of each system, suggesting in general that (1) differences can be due to the assay systems themselves; (2) phylogenetic differences in ribosome structure can affect frameshifting efficiency; and (3) care must be taken to employ the closest phylogenetic match between a specific -1 PRF signal and the choice of translational assay system.