The calf thymus DNA polymerase-alpha-primase complex purified by immunoaffinity chromatography catalyzes the synthesis of RNA initiators on phi X174 single-stranded viral DNA that are efficiently elongated by the DNA polymerase. Trace amounts of ATP and GTP are incorporated into products that are full length double-stranded circular DNAs. When synthetic polydeoxynucleotides are used as templates, initiation and DNA synthesis occurs with both poly(dT) and poly(dC), but neither initiation nor DNA synthesis was observed with poly(dA) and poly(dI) templates. Nitrocellulose filter binding and sucrose gradient centrifugation studies show that the DNA polymerase-primase complex binds to deoxypyrimidine polymers, but not to deoxypurine polymers. Using d(pA)-50 with 3'-oligo(dC) tails and d(pI)-50 with 3'-oligo(dT) tails, initiator synthesis and incorporation of deoxynucleotide can be demonstrated when the average pyrimidine sequence lengths are 8 and 4, respectively. These results suggest that purine polydeoxynucleotides are used as templates by the DNA polymerase only after initiation has occurred on the oligodeoxypyrimidine sequence and that the pyrimidine stretch required by the primase activity is relatively short. Analysis of initiator chain length with poly(dC) as template showed a series of oligo(G) initiators of 19-27 nucleotides in the absence of dGTP, and 5-13 nucleotides in the presence of dGTP. The chain length of initiators synthesized by the complex when poly(dT) or oligodeoxythymidylate-tailed poly(dI) was used can be as short as a dinucleotide. Analysis of the products of replication of oligo(dC)-tailed poly(dA) shows that initiator with chain length as low as 4 can be used for initiation by the polymerase-primase complex.