Proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) is a cell cycle and growth regulated protein required for replication of SV40 DNA in vitro. Its function was investigated by comparison of the replication products synthesized in its presence or absence. In the completely reconstituted replication system that contains PCNA, DNA synthesis initiates at the origin and proceeds bidirectionally on both leading and lagging strands around the template DNA to yield duplex, circular daughter molecules. In contrast, in the absence of PCNA, early replicative intermediates containing short nascent strands accumulate. Replication forks continue bidirectionally from the origin, but surprisingly, only lagging strand products are synthesized. Thus two stages of DNA synthesis have been defined, with the second stage requiring PCNA for coordinated leading and lagging strand synthesis at the replication fork. We suggest that during eukaryotic chromosome replication there is a switch to a PCNA-dependent elongation stage that requires two distinct DNA polymerases.