In chick-embryo fibroblasts infected with the Schmidt-Ruppin strain of Rous sarcoma virus, subgroup A (wild type), or with a thermosensitive mutant of this virus, T5, the rates of mitochondrial DNA synthesis differ in cells that exhibit normal and malignant phenotypes. In wild type virus-infected cells grown at 36 or 41 degrees C, morphological transformation is expressed, the rate of 2-deoxy-D-[3H]glucose uptake is stimulated, and mitochondrial DNA synthesis in vivo is stimulated three- to fivefold over that in uninfected cells. In T5-infected cells these changes occur only at the permissive temperature (36 degrees C); a shift to the nonpermissive temperature (41 degrees C) causes the reversal of these effects, and the specific activity of purified mitochondrial DNA is characteristic of that from uninfected cells. In contrast, the specific activities of nuclear DNA purified from cells maximally transformed under the permissive conditions do not differ between wild type-infected and uninfected with the T5 virus. In parallel experiments with isolated mitochondria, the rate of mtDNA synthesis in vitro is again greater in mitochondria isolated from transformed cells. In addition, mitochondrial DNA synthesis in vitro in mitochondria from nontransformed and virus-transformed cells exhibits differential sensitivity to inhibition by mercaptoethanol. Furthermore, the ntDNAP polymerase activity in mitochondrial extracts prepared from cells with transformed phenotypes is about sevenfold higher than in extracts from cells with nontransformed phenotypes.