The first time the acronym is used, it should be fully written out*. For example:
The Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (SPECTRE) organization features in a number of the James Bond films.
After that, it's perfectly acceptable to use it as the first word in a sentence:
SPECTRE is led by the notorious supervillian, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
As for whether or not it's acceptable in journal papers -- I'm currently in the middle of reading a paper from a top-tier computer science journal that frequently uses acronyms as the first word of the sentence:
"...for code isolation. CERE finds and extracts the hotspots of an application..." (1)
It's perfectly acceptable (at least in English) and encouraged, especially if it makes the paper easier to follow.
*As pointed out by NateEldredge and aeismail, there's an element of subtlety in this rule. If something is common knowledge in your field -- for example, most computer engineers know that "CPU" refers to "Central Processing Unit" -- you can choose to skip the acronym if you want. The same goes for well-known/standardized unit abbreviations (as your audience in a journal paper would likely know what those abbreviations mean).