The roles of the L and NS polypeptides in transcription by vesicular stomatitis virus New Jersey were studied using a mutant, tsE1, which contains a temperature-sensitive transcriptase and an altered NS polypeptide, both phenotypic changes being the consequence of the ts mutation. Mutant tsE1, its revertant (tsE1/R1) and the wild-type virus were dissociated into sub-viral fractions and, after reconstitution of these fractions in all combinations, the transcriptase was assayed in vitro at the permissive (31 degrees C) and restrictive (39 degrees C) temperatures. Reconstitution of the pellet fractions (containing polypeptide N complexed with the virion RNA) and the supernatant fractions (containing polypeptides L and NS) restored transcriptase activity at 31 degrees C in all combinations, but at 39 degrees C transcription was observed only in the presence of the supernatant fractions of wild-type and revertant viruses but not in the presence of the supernatant fractions of tsE1. When the pellet fractions and the L fractions were reconstituted, the transcriptase activity was restored in all combinations both at 31 degrees C and 39 degrees C. However, in vitro transcription at 39 degrees C by reconstituted pellet and L fractions was strongly inhibited when the NS fraction of tsE1 was also added, while addition of the NS fractions of wild-type and revertant viruses had no effect. Since only traces of polypeptide NS were present in the L fractions and none in the pellet fractions, the results strongly suggest that polypeptide L is the transcriptase itself while polypeptide NS exerts some control over transcription.