By site-directed mutagenesis we have changed into Cys the Ser232 of the phi 29 terminal protein (TP) involved in the covalent linkage to dAMP for the initiation of replication. The mutant TP, highly purified, had about 0.7% of the priming activity of the wild-type (wt) protein p3. The linkage between the mutant protein p3 and dAMP was more labile to piperidine treatment than the serine-dAMP linkage in the wt protein p3, suggesting the presence of a different kind of linkage, Cys-dAMP. In the other three mutant TPs, residues Leu220, Ser223 and Ser226 were independently changed into Pro; the purified TP mutants had about 3%, 140% and 1% of the priming activity of the wt p3, respectively. All the mutant TP were able to interact with the phi 29 DNA polymerase and with DNA, suggesting that Leu220 and Ser226, in addition to Ser232, form part of a functional domain involved in the process of initiation of DNA replication.