phi 29 DNA polymerase shares with other alpha-like DNA polymerases several regions of amino acid sequence similarity and sensitivity to inhibitors of eukaryotic DNA polymerase alpha. In this paper, site-directed mutants in the phi 29 DNA polymerase residues Asp249, Ser252, Leu253, and Pro255 of the conserved amino acid motif "Dx2SLYP" are described. Two mutants, D249E and S252R, were drastically affected in all the synthetic activities, whereas their 3' to 5' exonuclease activity and interaction with the TP primer was normal. Mutant D249E, slightly affected in template-primer binding, was completely inactive in all conditions tested, suggesting that Asp249 could be playing a direct role in catalysis. On the other hand, mutant S252R, strongly affected in template-primer binding, showed some DNA polymerization activity in the presence of Mn2+. Mutants S252G and P255S showed a reduced template-primer binding ability; these mutants, together with mutant L253V, showed metal ion-dependent phenotypes in their synthetic activities and altered sensitivities to the PPi analog phosphonoacetic acid. All these results support the hypothesis that the Dx2SLYP motif forms part of the polymerization active site of the phi 29 DNA polymerase, being the Asp249 residue critical both for protein-primed initiation and DNA polymerization.