The herpes simplex virus DNA polymerase is a heterodimer consisting of a catalytic subunit and the protein UL42, which functions as a processivity factor. It has been hypothesized that UL42 tethers the catalytic subunit to the DNA template by virtue of DNA binding activity (J. Gottlieb, A. I. Marcy, D. M. Coen, and M. D. Challberg, J. Virol. 64:5976-5987, 1990). Relevant to this hypothesis, we identified two linker insertion mutants of UL42 that were unable to bind to a double-stranded-DNA-cellulose column but retained their ability to bind the catalytic subunit. These mutants were severely impaired in the stimulation of long-chain-DNA synthesis by the catalytic subunit in vitro. In transfected cells, the expressed mutant proteins localized to the nucleus but were nonetheless deficient in complementing the growth of a UL42 null virus. Thus, unlike many other processivity factors, UL42 appears to require an intrinsic DNA binding activity for its function both in vitro and in infected cells. Possible mechanisms for the activity of UL42 and its potential as a drug target are discussed.