Functional interactions between mitochondrial DNA polymerase (pol gamma) and mitochondrial single-stranded DNA-binding protein (mtSSB) from Drosophila embryos have been evaluated with regard to the overall activity of pol gamma and in partial reactions involving template-primer binding and initiation and idling in DNA strand synthesis. Both the 5' --> 3' DNA polymerase and 3' --> 5' exonuclease in pol gamma are stimulated 15-20-fold on oligonucleotide-primed single-stranded DNA by native and recombinant forms of mtSSB. That the extent of stimulation is similar for both enzyme activities over a broad range of KCl concentrations suggests their functional coordination and a similar mechanism of stimulation by mtSSB. At the same time, the high mispair specificity of pol gamma in exonucleolytic hydrolysis is maintained, indicating that enhancement of pol gamma catalytic efficiency is likely not accompanied by increased nucleotide turnover. DNase I footprinting of pol gamma.DNA complexes and initial rate measurements show that mtSSB enhances primer recognition and binding and stimulates 30-fold the rate of initiation of DNA strands. Dissociation studies show that productive complexes of the native pol gamma heterodimer with template-primer DNA are formed and remain stable in the absence of replication accessory proteins.