A polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis band-mobility shift assay was developed to study the binding of synthetic oligonucleotides by DNA polymerase delta (pol delta) and proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA). As measured by this assay, neither calf thymus pol delta core enzyme nor PCNA alone bind DNA stably. However, mammalian PCNA but not Drosophila PCNA promotes the formation of a distinct pol delta.PCNA.template-primer complex. Appearance of this complex is primer-dependent but does not require Mg2+. Complex stability is also influenced by the presence or absence of individual dNTPs. A model for the ordered sequential interaction of pol delta, PCNA, and DNA template-primers is proposed.