The bacteriophage T4 61/41 protein primase-helicase is part of a seven T4 protein system needed for DNA synthesis in vitro. Although both 41 and 61 proteins are required for the synthesis and utilization of the normal pppApC(pN)3 pentanucleotide primer, we show in the accompanying paper (Hinton, D. M., and Nossal, N. G. (1987) J. Biol. Chem. 262, 10873-10878) that high concentrations of 61 protein alone carry out a limited, template-dependent oligonucleotide synthesis with the dimers pppApC and pppGpC as the major products labeled with [alpha-32P]CTP. At these high concentrations, 61 protein alone primes DNA synthesis by T4 DNA polymerase and the T4 genes 44/62 and 45 polymerase accessory proteins, or by Escherichia coli DNA polymerase I. The addition of T4 replication proteins other than 41 protein does not change the size distribution of oligonucleotides made by 61 protein. However, the primers used for DNA synthesis in the absence of 41 protein are not dimers, but rather trace quantities of longer oligonucleotides (5 to about 45 bases) which begin predominantly with pppGpC. These results show that 41 protein is required to prime with oligonucleotides beginning with pppApC and suggest that 41 protein, either alone or in conjunction with 61 protein, helps to stabilize the usual short pentamer primers on the template until they are elongated by the DNA polymerase. Moreover, since 61 protein by itself can only initiate DNA synthesis with primers beginning with pppGpC, but cannot make oligonucleotides starting with pppGpC on T4 DNA in which all the C is glucosylated and hydroxymethylated, both the T4 41 and 61 proteins are essential to prime DNA synthesis on their normal template. In our analysis of RNA-primed DNA, we demonstrate that although RNA primers at the 5' ends of DNA chains are relatively resistant to the 3' to 5' exonuclease of T4 DNA polymerase (Kurosawa, Y., and Okazaki, T. (1979) J. Mol. Biol. 135, 841-861), pppNpNpNpNpN oligomers are digested to a greater extent than the dephosphorylated pentamers NpNpNpNpN.