phi 29 DNA polymerase shares with other alpha-like DNA polymerases several regions of amino acid similarity. Among them, the conserved region characterized by the amino acid motif "Kx3NSxYG" has been proposed to form part of the polymerization active site of alpha-like DNA polymerases. Mutants in phi 29 DNA polymerase residue Tyr390 of this conserved motif had been previously described to be affected in DNA-dependent dNTP binding. In this paper, the functional significance of this conserved motif is further studied by the analysis of mutants in conserved residues Asn387, Ser388, and Gly391. Residue Phe393 of phi 29 DNA polymerase has also been selected as target for site-directed mutagenesis because of its conservation within the group of alpha-like DNA polymerases from genomes that replicate by a protein-priming mechanism. Mutant N387Y was shown to be affected both in initiation and polymerization reactions, showing 3-fold higher Km value for dATP and more than 11-fold lower Vmax value than the wild-type enzyme in the initiation reaction; moreover, it was affected in enzyme-DNA translocation. Mutant S388G retained initiation and polymerization activities; interestingly, this mutation significantly increased the efficiency of dNTP incorporation in non-templated reactions. Mutation Gly391 to Asp abolished template-primer binding as shown by gel retardation assays; this mutant was drastically affected in template-dependent dNTP incorporation both in initiation and polymerization reactions, but the efficiency of the non-templated phi 29 terminal protein-deoxynucleotidylation was higher than with the wild-type protein. Mutation Phe393 to Tyr severely decreased initial binding to template-primer DNA molecules, resulting in a reduced activity in DNA primer-dependent polymerization reactions but not in phi 29 terminal protein-dependent ones.