In vitro biochemical assays are typically performed using very dilute solutions of macromolecular components. On the other hand, total intracellular concentrations of macromolecular solutes are very high, resulting in an in vivo environment that is significantly "volume-occupied." In vitro studies with the DNA replication proteins of bacteriophage T4 have revealed anomalously weak binding of T4 gene 45 protein to the rest of the replication complex. We have used inert macromolecular solutes to mimic typical intracellular solution conditions of high volume occupancy to investigate the effects of "macromolecular crowding" on the binding equilibria involved in the assembly of the T4 polymerase accessory proteins complex. The same approach was also used to study the assembly of this complex with T4 DNA polymerase (gene 43 protein) and T4 single-stranded DNA binding protein (gene 32 protein) to form the five protein "holoenzyme". We find that the apparent association constant (Ka) of gene 45 for gene 44/62 proteins in forming both the accessory protein complex and the holoenzyme increases markedly (from approximately 7 x 10(6) to approximately 3.5 x 10(8) M-1) as a consequence of adding polymers such as polyethylene glycol and dextran. Although the processivity of the polymerase alone is not directly effected by the addition of such polymers to the solution, macromolecular crowding does significantly stabilize the holoenzyme and thus indirectly increases the observed processivity of the holoenzyme complex. The use of macromolecular crowding to increase the stability of multienzyme complexes in general is discussed, as is the relevance of these results to DNA replication in vivo.