Adenovirus codes for a DNA polymerase that is a member of the DNA polymerase alpha family and uses a protein primer for initiation of DNA synthesis. It contains motifs characteristic of a proofreading 3'-5'-exonuclease domain located in the N-terminal region and several polymerase motifs located in the C-terminal region. To determine the role of adenovirus DNA polymerase in DNA replication, 22 site-directed mutations were introduced into the conserved DNA polymerase motifs in the C-terminal region of adenovirus DNA polymerase and the mutant forms were expressed in insect cells using a baculovirus expression system. Each mutant enzyme was tested for DNA binding activity, the ability to interact with pTP, DNA polymerase catalytic activity, and the ability to participate in the initiation of adenovirus DNA replication. The mutant phenotypes identify functional domains within the adenovirus DNA polymerase and allow discrimination between the roles of conserved residues in the various activities carried out by the protein. Using the functional data in this study and the previously published structure of the bacteriophage RB69 DNA polymerase (J. Wang et al., Cell 89:1087-1099, 1997), it is possible to envisage how the conserved domains in the adenovirus DNA polymerase function.