Polyadenylation of mRNA precursors by poly(A) polymerase depends on two specificity factors and their recognition sequences. These are cleavage and polyadenylation specificity factor (CPSF), recognizing the polyadenylation signal AAUAAA, and poly(A) binding protein II (PAB II), interacting with the growing poly(A) tail. Their effects are independent of ATP and an RNA 5'-cap. Analysis of RNA-protein interactions by non-denaturing gel electrophoresis shows that CPSF, PAB II and poly(A) polymerase form a quaternary complex with the substrate RNA that transiently stabilizes the binding of poly(A) polymerase to the RNA 3'-end. Only the complex formed from all three proteins is competent for the processive synthesis of a full-length poly(A) tail.