Initiation of cell-free simian virus 40 (SV40) DNA replication requires the interaction of DNA polymerase alpha/primase with a preinitiation complex containing the viral T antigen and cellular proteins, replication protein A, and topoisomerase I or II. To further understand the molecular mechanisms of the transition from preinitiation to initiation, the intermolecular interaction between human DNA polymerase alpha and T antigen was investigated. We have demonstrated that the human DNA polymerase alpha catalytic polypeptide is able to associate with SV40 large T antigen directly under physiological conditions. A physical association between these two proteins was detected by coimmunoprecipitation with monoclonal antibodies from insect cells coinfected with recombinant baculoviruses. A domain of human polymerase alpha physically interacting with T antigen was identified within the amino-terminal region from residues 195 to 313. This domain of human polymerase alpha was able to form a nonproductive complex with T antigen, causing inhibition of the SV40 DNA replication in vitro. Kinetics of the inhibition indicated that this polymerase domain can inhibit viral replication only during the preinitiation stage. Extra molecules of T antigen could partially overcome the inhibition only prior to initiation complex formation. The data support the conclusion that initiation of SV40 DNA replication requires the physical interaction of T antigen in the preinitiation complex with the amino-terminal domain of human polymerase alpha from amino acid residues 195 to 313.