Vertebrate mitochondrial genomes contain a putative transcription termination site at the boundary between the genes for 16S rRNA and leucyl-tRNA. We have described previously an in vitro transcription system from human cells with the capacity to generate RNA 3' ends with the same map positions as those synthesized in vivo. By assaying the ability of variously truncated templates to support 3'-end formation, we demonstrated that the tridecamer sequence 5'-TGGCAGAGCCCCGG-3', contained entirely within the gene for leucyl-tRNA, is necessary to direct accurate termination. When two tridecamer sequences and their immediate flanking regions were placed in tandem, termination occurred at both promoter-proximal and promoter-distal sites. Furthermore, termination was competitively inhibited, in a concentration-dependent manner, by DNA containing the tridecamer sequence. These results suggest a modest sequence requirement for transcription termination that is contingent on a factor capable of recognizing the presence of the tridecamer DNA sequence.