Transcriptional activation of middle genes in bacteriophage T4 requires the phage-encoded motA protein. Many middle genes are involved in deoxyribonucleotide biosynthesis and phage DNA replication. In the absence of motA, the gene products that are required for DNA synthesis are transcribed from other, upstream promoters. Using primer extension sequencing on RNA templates isolated from T4 motA+ and motA- infected cells, we have characterized 14 motA-dependent transcripts. The T4 middle promoters have a consensus sequence of nine base-pairs, (a/t)(a/t)TGCTT(t/c)A, spaced 11 to 13 nucleotides away from the Escherichia coli--10 consensus sequence, TAnnnT. The motA protein also can act as a transcriptional repressor for at least one early gene. Furthermore, the phage-encoded motA protein can activate in trans a middle promoter resident on a plasmid.