Adenovirus (Ad) virions contain a 55-kDa terminal protein covalently linked to both 5'-ends of the linear duplex DNA genome. The origin of DNA replication is contained within the terminal 50 base pair of the inverted terminal repeats. In the accompanying paper (Kenny, M. K., Balogh, L. A., and Hurwitz, J. (1988) J. Biol. Chem. 263, 9801-9808), it was demonstrated that synthetic oligonucleotide templates which contain the Ad origin, but lack the 55-kDa terminal protein, can serve as templates for the initiation of Ad DNA replication. Partially duplex oligonucleotides that lacked up to 14 nucleotides from the 5'-end of the nontemplate (displaced) strand supported initiation as much as 20-fold more efficiently than fully duplex oligonucleotides. The removal of 18 nucleotides or more from the 5'-end of the displaced strand resulted in a sharp decrease in the ability of the DNA templates to support initiation. The poor template efficiency of certain DNAs could be explained by their inability to bind nuclear factor I. The initiation efficiency observed with other DNAs correlated with their ability to bind the preterminal protein-Ad DNA polymerase complex. At low concentrations of the Ad DNA-binding protein, protein-primed initiation was also observed on single-stranded DNAs. The single-stranded template strand of the Ad origin was at least 5-20-fold better at supporting initiation than other single-stranded DNAs. These findings suggest a model in which the 3'-end of the template strand is rendered single-stranded as a prerequisite for initiation of Ad DNA replication.