We investigated the inhibitory effects of aurochloric acid (AuCl4H) on reverse transcriptase (RT) derived from avian myeloblastosis virus and DNA polymerase alpha (pol. alpha) purified from HeLa S3 cells. The activities of RT, pol. alpha and E. coli DNA polymerase I (pol. I) with dTTP as the substrate were inhibited 50% at AuCl4H concentrations of 18 microM, 43 microM and 230 microM, respectively. AuCl4H inhibited RT activity competitively with respect to the substrate, dTTP, and uncompetitively with the template/primer, (rA)n(dT)12-18. In assays with dGTP as the substrate, 50% inhibitions of RT, pol. alpha and pol. I activities were observed at AuCl4H concentrations of 100 microM, 450 microM and 580 microM, respectively. AuCl4H inhibited RT activity uncompetitively with respect to the substrate, dGTP, and noncompetitively with the template/primer, (rC)n(dG)12-18. AuCl4H at concentrations causing more than 50% inhibition of RT activity had little inhibitory effect on the colony-forming ability of HeLa cells or their syntheses of DNA, RNA and protein.