The affinity of different ligands (phosphate, nucleoside monophosphates, oligonucleotides) to the template binding site of DNA polymerase alpha from human placenta was estimated. To this goal, dependences of rate of the enzyme inactivation by the affinity reagent d(pT)2pC[Pt2+(NH3)2OH](pT)7 on the concentration of these ligands as competitive inhibitors were determined. Minimal ligands capable to bind with the template site of DNA polymerase alpha were shown to be triethylphosphate (Kd 600 microM) and phosphate (Kd 53 microM). Ligand affinity increases by the factor 1.71 per added monomer unit from phosphate to d(pT) and then for oligothymidylates d(Tp)nT (n 1 to 14). The partial ethylation of phosphodiester groups does not change the efficiency of the oligothymidylate binding with the enzyme. However, the complete ethylation of these groups lowers affinity of the oligothymidylates to the enzyme by 7-9 times. The decrease is comparable with the change of Pt2+-decathymidylate affinity to the enzyme caused by Mn2+-ions. The data obtained led to suggestion that an electrostatic contact (most likely, Me2+-dependent) of phosphodiester group with the enzyme takes place. The type of contact is confirmed by Gibbs' energy change 1.1-1.4 kcal/mole. Formation of a hydrogen bond with the oxygen atom of P = O group of the same phosphate is also assumed (delta G =--4.4 . . .--4.5 kcal/mole). The other internucleotide phosphates and all bases of oligonucleotides form neither hydrogen bonds nor electrostatic contacts with the template binding site. Gibbs' energy changes by 0.32 kcal/mole when the template is lengthened by one unit. We suppose that this value characterizes the energy gain in the transition of oligonucleotide template from aquous medium to the hydrophobic environement of the enzyme active site. Comparison of Km values of oligothymidylates and their partially or completely ethylated analogues as templates in the reaction of DNA polymerization catalysed by DNA polymerase alpha from human placenta and Klenow's fragment of E. coli DNA polymerase I suggests a similar mechanism of template recognition by both enzymes.