Binding of U2 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP) to the pre-mRNA branch site is an early step in spliceosome assembly and appears to commit a pre-mRNA to the splicing pathway. We have shown previously that this ATP-dependent binding requires a non-rnRNP factor, U2 snRNP auxiliary factor (U2AF), in addition to U2 snRNP. In this report we have identified U2AF, purified it to homogeneity, and characterized its biochemical properties. Purified U2AF comprises roughly equimolar quantities of two polypeptides, approximately 65 kDa and approximately 35 kDa, which appear to be associated. Measured by ultraviolet crosslinking, the 65-kDa polypeptide binds specifically to the polypyrimidine tract/3' splice site region. U2AF binds rapidly at 4 degrees C in the absence of ATP and remains associated with the pre-mRNA following U2 snRNP binding. Thus, the simple binding of U2AF initiates mammalian spliceosome assembly by facilitating the ATP-dependent binding of U2 snRNP.